Updated: October 29, 2006 6:53:32 PM PST

USC's loss is perfect setup for November games


IF IT'S PANDEMONIUM YOU WANT ...

No. 3 USC lost. No. 5 Texas struggled. No. 7 Auburn struggled. This may have been the greatest Saturday in West Virginia history.

The No. 4 Mountaineers did not play Saturday but they moved as close to No. 1 as they have been since the 17-14 victory over Boston College in 1993 that made them 11-0. That may be a slight exaggeration, but an undefeated West Virginia -- or, for that matter, an undefeated, sixth-ranked Louisville -- has a lot better shot at a BCS berth now that USC is out of the Mountaineers' way.

If Professor Bob Davie will allow me to guest lecture, the games this week illustrated one of the most basic lessons in his College Football 101 syllabus: it is lonely on the road. Seven of the top 11 ranked teams played away from home, and only No. 11 Notre Dame resembled a candidate for a national championship. The Irish did so because they played Navy, a team long on guts and precision and short and light in categories like height and weight.

Brady Quinn
Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE
The day started great for the Irish but ended so-so with the USC's loss to Oregon State.

Notre Dame, No. 10 in your polls but No. 9 in your BCS, may have had the most impressive victory Saturday with its 38-14 rout of the Midshipmen in Baltimore, but the Fighting Irish came out losers, too, because of what happened in Corvallis, Ore. USC's 33-31 loss to Oregon State removes considerable value from a Notre Dame victory in Los Angeles on Nov. 25.

What a difference an airplane flight makes. When the Irish reached the airport to leave Baltimore on Saturday evening, USC trailed 7-0. When their plane landed back in the midwest, USC was about to miss its two-point conversion. Given that the Irish's three opponents in the interim -- North Carolina, Air Force and Army -- are a combined 7-17, a potential USC victory is all Notre Dame had going for it.

Back to the point at hand: West Virginia and Louisville have a lot more riding on their game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Thursday night than they did before last week. There are only six remaining I-A unbeatens. No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan will play each other. West Virginia, Louisville and No. 15 Rutgers will play each other. No. 14 Boise State plays none of the others.

There would be a certain symmetry to it if the Big East had more believers in it. An unbeaten Big Ten team would play an unbeaten Big East team in the BCS Championship Game, each of them having overcome an unbeaten or two late in the season to get there.

But the non-believers in the Big East will point to Texas and whatever SEC team (No. 6 Auburn, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 7 Florida, No. 12 Arkansas) reaches Dec. 3 with only one loss. They might even point to USC, if the Trojans run their late-season gauntlet of No. 22 Oregon, No. 11 California, Notre Dame, and UCLA.

You know who else will make a claim? The loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game. Is that one-loss team's second chance more worthy than the undefeated West Virginia-Louisville winner? That will be one ugly BCS argument, which can mean only one thing.

Let the November games begin.

KEEPING THE FOCUS ON THE FIELD

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Maybe there was some hidden relief. Maybe it meant more than he cared to share.

Either way, Phillip Fulmer wasn't saying. He looked like a head coach late Saturday night that had been there and done that.

Yes, it was only his fourth win against Steve Spurrier against eight losses. And, yes, there's been no escaping the Spurrier shadow for Fulmer in what has otherwise been an illustrious head coaching career.

But sweet redemption?

Fulmer said too much has been made of the whole Fulmer-Spurrier rivalry.

Phillip Fulmer
Rex Brown/WireImage.com
Phillip Fulmer picked up his fourth win in 12 tries vs. Steve Spurrier.

"It didn't have anything to do with it," said Fulmer, whose eighth-ranked Vols showed their mettle in the fourth quarter to beat the Gamecocks 31-24 at Williams-Brice Stadium. "Neither one of us played a snap. He's a good coach, and I don't know where all that gets started. There's been times we should have won and didn't and times he probably should have won and didn't. That's just the way it is.

"I'm just glad to get a win, so we can move to 7-1."

The Tennessee players also did their best to downplay any added significance of beating Spurrier.

"I don't know what's going on between them two," senior receiver Jayson Swain said laughing. "I ain't got nothing to do with that. That's them two. I'm just happy that we came out here and got a win against those guys on the field. They came ready to play. The crowd did a good job. We're just happy to get a win. I don't know nothing about Spurrier and coach Fulmer."

Fulmer sent Spurrier home a loser this time because the Vols were better than the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. It's become Tennessee's trademark this season.

The Vols have outscored their last five opponents in the fourth quarter by an 85-20 margin. They trailed 17-14 entering the final quarter Saturday night, but erupted for 17 points to win for the fifth straight time this sason.

"I wished we played the first three quarters like we do the fourth, to be honest with you," Fulmer said.

But with the injuries the Vols have overcome (Justin Harrell, Inky Johnson and most recently LaMarcus Coker), Fulmer's by no means complaining. Tennessee, even though its chances of playing in the SEC Championship Game are remote with Florida beating Georgia on Saturday, has an excellent chance to land an at-large berth in a BCS bowl. It won't be easy. LSU comes to Knoxville this weekend, and Tennessee travels to Arkansas the following weekend.

"We've shown some tenacity as a football team and some toughness and gotten ourselves to this point, and I'm proud of them," Fulmer said. "It doesn't do anything but get harder with LSU coming in next week."

STAYING ON THE BALL

ATLANTA -- Saturday's critical ACC game against Miami couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball.

On the Yellow Jackets' first play from scrimmage, Ball was scrambling to his left and was hit from behind by Hurricanes defensive end Calais Campbell. Ball fumbled, and linebacker Glen Cook scooped it up and returned it for a 19-yard touchdown.

Just like that, Georgia Tech was losing 7-0 in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Ball was once again left wondering whether he was in for another long day.

Phillip Fulmer
Christopher Gooley/US Presswire
Ball pulled it together in the second half.

Ball, a senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., completed only 3-of-16 passes in the first half. But he rebounded to complete 8-of-11 passes in the final two quarters, including a 1-yard touchdown to junior Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter that put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good.

Ball completed 11-of-27 passes for 188 yards with two touchdowns. He was sacked four times.

"I was mad, hurt and frustrated," said Ball, who has been hampered by a leg injury for much of the last month. "But I've been down before. I had to keep everyone up, keep pushing."

The Yellow Jackets seem headed to where they've never been before: the Dec. 2 ACC championship game at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. Georgia Tech has what is basically a two-game lead over Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech in the ACC's Coastal Division.

For one of the other three teams to win the division, the Yellow Jackets would have to lose two of their last three ACC games against North Carolina State, North Carolina and winless Duke. Georgia Tech has already beaten the Cavaliers, Hurricanes and Hokies and owns the tie-breaker over each.

"We knew this was our moment," Johnson said. "If we wanted to get to the ACC championship game, we had to win this game."

LEADER OF MEN

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Coach Mack Brown had a stern challenge for redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy after watching his team fall into an early three-touchdown hole Saturday night against Texas Tech.

After watching an interception returned for a touchdown late in the first quarter, Brown told McCoy that the only way the Longhorns could win would be if his teammates looked him in the eyes feeling "they think you think that we can win."

Even nursing a busted lip, McCoy responded with a dramatic comeback that boosted the Longhorns to a wild 35-31 victory.

Colt McCoy
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
Texas Colt McCoy showed his mettle on Saturday night.

"It's the heart of this team and the determination of this team that put us over the top," McCoy told reporters after the game. "If we don't have heart tonight, we don't win."

The win was especially sweet for McCoy, who grew up only two hours away from Lubbock and knows many of the players on the Texas Tech team. He even dates a Texas Tech student who is a recruiter for the Red Raiders' football team.

Two huge plays from McCoy in the fourth quarter propelled the Longhorns to the victory, extending their record 20-game winning streak in Big 12 games.

His 28-yard TD pass to Quan Cosby gave the Longhorns the lead for good at 35-31 with 13:24 left.

And after two defensive stops on fourth down inside the Texas 35 later in the quarter, McCoy sealed the victory with his feet.

McCoy's serpentine 33-yard run on third-and-5 enabled the Longhorns to keep their fleeting hopes of defending their national championship alive. He finished with 256 passing yards and four TD passes and rushed for a career-best 68 yards. The comeback marked the largest road comeback in Texas school history and was topped only by a 28-point deficit it overcame in 2004 against Oklahoma State in Austin.

The Longhorns overcame a sensational effort by Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell, who torched UT's defense for a career-best 519 yards. It was just 14 yards short of Houston quarterback Jimmy Klingler's opponents' record set against Texas in 1992.

BUILDING BLOCKS

OXFORD, Miss. -- Maybe it's because we live in an era of computer polls, talking head shows, message boards and scrolling score tickers, but for better or worse style points do matter.

Mico McSwain
Kevin C. Cox/WireImage.com
The Rebels were feeling good after an opening-drive score.

That was the thought that kept going through my mind inside the Ole Miss locker room 5½ minutes before kickoff. The Rebels were a 19-point underdog against the No. 7 team in the country. Everyone in Oxford knew the Auburn Tigers were supposed to pound the undermanned Rebels. Gauging how that sentiment affects college kids coping with that is never easy. Sometimes they wilt under that pressure and sometimes they grow big and play better than they ever have before.

I had no idea which was going to kick in, and the game sure didn't start well for Ole Miss. Starting defensive end Chris Bowers had to be helped off the field with an apparent shoulder injury on the opening kickoff and was lost for the game. It seemed to be devastating news for a team already decimated along its defensive front, especially facing a power team like Auburn.

But it sure didn't look like the Rebels were rattled. They hit a couple of big plays and marched down the field on their first series and scored when former tailback Mico McSwain lined up at receiver and went untouched on a reverse. It was amazing to see the looks on the Rebels' faces in the aftermath. They had almost beat Georgia and lost at Alabama in OT, but also got thumped at Arkansas last week. They came into the game 2-6.

To read the rest of Bruce Feldman's story, click here.

FIVE SATURDAY OBSERVATIONS
IVAN MAISEL
Texas 1. USC and Texas fell 23 and 21 points behind, respectively, but neither team gave off a whiff a panic. Urgency, yes, in the case of the Trojans, who fell that far behind late in the third quarter. But the Longhorns didn't even have that. They had come back from 28- and 19-point deficits in the last two seasons. USC gave itself a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Texas had taken the lead early in the fourth quarter.

Terry Hoeppner
Hoeppner
2. Jim Tressel? Lloyd Carr? You don't have to wait until Nov. 18 to pick a Big Ten Coach of the Year. Terry Hoeppner would deserve kudos just because of his comeback from midseason brain surgery. But Indiana has improved a great deal since last season. At 5-4, the Hoosiers need one victory to qualify for a bowl game. It may come as quickly as Saturday at hapless Minnesota -- if the Hoosiers can handle success.

Frank Solich
Solich
3. Speaking of which, the rollercoaster that is Frank Solich's head coaching tenure at Ohio is climbing again. The Bobcats are 6-3, and with the 17-7 road victory over Kent State on Saturday, they control the Mid-American East. Win out, and Ohio will play in the MAC Championship Game for its first conference title since 1968. (The same year a 24-year-old Solich took over as head coach of Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast High). Win out, and the off-field troubles of Solich and Ohio will recede.

ACC 4. Take a look at some of the games next week that have championship implications: West Virginia-Louisville in the Big East; Tulsa-Houston in the Conference USA West; Boston College-Wake Forest in the ACC Atlantic; Missouri-Nebraska in the Big 12 North. If you say you marked the first two before the season, fine. If you say you had the second two, I would be really impressed.

Oklahoma 5. Two things stood out about Oklahoma's 26-10 victory at -- yes, at, which matters for a team that had lost five of its last seven away from Norman -- Missouri: one, the Tigers made huge mistakes, and the Sooners capitalized on just about all of them; and two, the Sooners' offensive line, a liability last year and a question mark at the beginning of this year, is becoming a force. Keep an eye on sophomore guard George Robinson (6-5, 332).

COLLEGE GAMEDAY RECAP
Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit run through Saturday's action.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE FINAL CREW
RECE DAVIS
Big East After all the jokes and the criticism of Big East football over the last couple of years, this should be a very gratifying week for the conference. Half of the nation's undefeated teams are from the Big East, and Thursday's West Virginia-Louisville matchup will be the biggest college football game this side of Michigan-Ohio State. And this might be only the beginning. The Big East could still end up with a team in the biggest game of them all.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Kellen Lewis & James Hardy, Indiana
Lewis: 5 TD passes; Hardy 4 TD catches vs. Michigan State
Sammie Stroughter, Oregon State
127 rec. yards, punt return TD vs. USC
LOU HOLTZ
It will be fun to see how well the teams with one loss react now. It's easy to play loose when you're hoping to get back in the national title hunt; the pressure goes up when you catch that break and really are back in the hunt. The same thing applies to the undefeated teams in the Big East. People remember what you do in November.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Lamarr Woodley, Michigan
2 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery vs. Northwestern
Allen Patrick, Oklahoma
36 carries, 162 yards vs. Missouri
MARK MAY
Florida In my opinion, the one-loss team with the best shot at playing for the national title is Florida. Not only are the Gators one of the more talented teams with one loss, but they have the best schedule for making the run. They should win the rest of their regular-season games, and the SEC Championship gives them a chance to beat a quality opponent on the final day with all voters watching.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Dan Connor, Penn State
10 solo tackles, INT vs. Purdue
Colt McCoy, Texas
21-31, 256 yards, 4 TD vs. Texas Tech
HIGHLIGHTS: VOLS-GAMECOCKS
Tennessee and coach Phillip Fulmer exacted some revenge on Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
KEYING IN
BRAD EDWARDS, ESPN Research
South Carolina receiver Sidney Rice had his way with the SEC as a freshman last season, getting either 100-plus yards or a TD in every conference game (3 games with both). This season, SEC opponents have gone to great lengths to keep Rice from beating them and have been successful in doing so. In six conference games in 2006, Rice has yet to have a 100-yard game (over 55 yards only once) and has just one TD catch. Saturday against Tennessee, he had three catches for 52 yards.
LOOKING BACK: MIAMI-GEORGIA TECH
TAKING ON WATER
After another loss, the Hurricanes are heading into uncharted waters. That's more bad news for Larry Coker, writes Mark Schlabach. Story
HIGHLIGHTS: CANES-JACKETS
Calvin Johnson got back on track for Georgia Tech vs. Miami.
TALENT TURNOVER
BRAD EDWARDS, ESPN Research
Some would say that Pete Carroll's incredible success at USC can be attributed to two simple factors: recruiting elite talent and winning the turnover battle.

Over the last five years, the Trojans have had recruiting classes ranked among the best in the nation each February and teams ranked in the top five in turnover margin every fall. It's a combination that's practically unbeatable, as the results on the field have shown.

This year's relatively inexperienced talent followed this formula to success over the first two weeks of the season, racking up a plus-6 turnover margin while beating Arkansas by 36 points and Nebraska by 18. Those games improved USC's turnover differential under Pete Carroll to an amazing plus-100 through 66 games. There were already signs that this year's offense didn't have the explosiveness of previous seasons, but the Trojans were still winning easily by taking care of the ball and being opportunistic.

Things have certainly changed. It started with an ugly win over punchless Arizona, in which both teams turned the ball over twice. Then there were three straight games with a minus-1 turnover margin that resulted in three straight wins by seven points or fewer. On Saturday, USC finally dug a hole it couldn't climb out of, as a minus-4 turnover margin led to a 23-point third-quarter deficit against Oregon State.

Certainly, the Trojans have plenty of things to fix after losing a Pac-10 game for the first time in more than three years, but you can be sure item number one will be ball security. A close second might be finding a way to force more turnovers.

HIGHLIGHTS: GOPHERS-BUCKEYES
Ohio State had little trouble in shutting out Minnesota.

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