Originally Published: November 14, 2010

Survive and advance

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

The road to the BCS Championship Game is a road to survival. Not every game will be easy. Not every game will be pretty. Not every game will look impressive.

National champions usually have a clunker along the way: Alabama had two last season against Tennessee and Auburn; Florida and LSU each lost en route to their titles; Texas survived Ohio State in 2005; USC survived Stanford in 2004.

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AP Photo/Paul SakumaA missed Cal field goal proved to be the difference between the Bears and Oregon on Saturday.

It just so happened that three of the four title contenders this season each had survival games on Saturday: No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 TCU. Oregon punt returner Cliff Harris spoke for them all when he said, "You need luck sometimes."

The Ducks beat California 15-13 in their worst offensive game of the season. An illegal-motion penalty on California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio negated what would have been the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, and then the Ducks tore a little page out of the Big Ten playbook: ball-control offense.

Oregon milked a stunning nine-and-a-half minutes off the clock to win. But perhaps more than the offensive performance was that this was an opportunity to prove the Ducks can play defense, too. Cal's offense failed to score in the final 50 minutes of the game and managed just 193 total yards and 13 first downs.

Down on the Plains, it feels as though Auburn is in survival mode every week. The mood was heightened headed into its game against Georgia given the speculation surrounding Heisman Trophy contender Cameron Newton. How would he respond following allegations of impropriety regarding his recruitment to Mississippi State out of junior college? How would the team respond?

The Tigers looked a little flat early, trailing 21-7 to a Georgia team that has been short of spectacular all season. But they locked down and turned it on, pulling away to win 49-31. Newton had 299 total yards and scored four touchdowns, becoming the eighth quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. No distractions for him.

There were plenty for the Horned Frogs, though. Coming off an emotional 47-7 win over Utah, TCU trailed 14-0 early against San Diego State -- at home, no less. The Horned Frogs built a 37-14 lead before holding on to win 40-35 in a game that will do nothing for their reputation. It proved to be a double whammy, as Utah lost to Notre Dame and Oregon State lost to Washington State. All those factors could impact TCU in the polls, especially with No. 4 Boise State waiting in the wings.

The Broncos had their survival game months ago. This week, they led a host of teams that made big statements in Week 11. Boise State made it look easy once again in a 52-14 win over Idaho on Friday night. But like TCU, its championship fate is out of its hands. The jockeying between the two non-AQs will grow more intense as the weeks progress, especially if Oregon and/or Auburn slips up and loses and a spot in the title game becomes available.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin dropped 83 points on Indiana, the most it has ever scored in Big Ten play. The Badgers did it without running back John Clay and had to answer questions about whether they ran up the score on the Hoosiers. Indiana coach Bill Lynch said he did not feel that was the case. Despite the big win, there is still little clarity in the Big Ten race -- Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State each have one conference loss.

Finally, we take you to Gainesville, Fla., where South Carolina clinched its first SEC East title and had no idea how to act as though it had been there before. That probably explains why coach Steve Spurrier orchestrated the celebration after the Gamecocks' 36-14 win over the Gators in The Swamp. South Carolina will play in the SEC championship game for the first time in its history in a rematch against Auburn on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.

The Gamecocks dominated the Gators, piling up 239 yards on the ground. Not many gave them a chance to win at Spurrier's old stomping grounds with a program that seemed to be cursed.

But the Ol' Ball Coach survived. That was the name of the game Saturday.

Points taken

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

Wisconsin prides itself on being a hard-nosed, no-frills, gritty program.

The Badgers aren't known for their sense of style, and they're proud of it.

But some think that changed Saturday against Indiana, as No. 7 Wisconsin put up 83 points, its highest total in the modern era and its highest total in a Big Ten game. The Badgers exploded for the most points by a Big Ten team since Ohio State put up 83 against Iowa in 1950. Only two teams have scored more points in league history.

Wisconsin also finds itself in the thick of the Big Ten title race, which could come down to the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings. Winning is paramount for the Badgers, but so is winning with a flourish.

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Jeff Hanisch.US PresswireWisconsin scored the most points by an FBS school since the turn of the century in an 83-20 win over Indiana.

Did the Badgers pile it on Saturday in an 83-20 beatdown of Indiana?

"There's not one style point on that board," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told ESPN.com late Saturday afternoon. "All those guys did was play football and competed."

Bielema said style points never entered his mind as Wisconsin scored touchdown after touchdown.

Wisconsin pulled starting quarterback Scott Tolzien and starting running back Montee Ball after three quarters. The Badgers attempted four passes in the final quarter, including one from backup quarterback Jon Budmayr to receiver Jared Abbrederis that went for a 74-yard touchdown on third-and-6.

"There was just the one pass play someone could [question]," Bielema said, "but it was third-and-5, and we wanted to keep the chains moving and I said we could throw the football, and obviously a big play happened.

"You can't put the [backups] in and say, 'Don't play football.'"

Bielema took some heat Oct. 9 when he went for a two-point conversion against Minnesota with the Badgers leading 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. He claimed he was simply going by the book on when to go for two points, but then-Minnesota coach Tim Brewster took issue with the decision in a testy postgame exchange.

There were no fireworks between Bielema and Indiana's Bill Lynch after Saturday's game.

"There was no issue whatsoever," Bielema said. "He just congratulated me and said a lot of positive things. I thought Coach Lynch was really good after the game. We weren't trying to do anything but just play football."

Gut check

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The drill came near the end of a Thursday practice during a bye week, a time when players' thoughts usually drift toward plans for the long weekend. And on a team with a 4-5 record and not much to play for, the seniors could have already checked out.

Instead, the drill may have signaled an important step in Brian Kelly's building process at Notre Dame. It was a version of the old Oklahoma drill: three offensive players versus three defensive players fighting for 10 yards of turf. The Irish competed so intensely at it that Kelly had to repeatedly pull banged-up players like Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith out.

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Brian Spurlock/US PresswireNotre Dame responded well coming out of its bye week, earning its first win over a ranked opponent in four years with a 28-3 beatdown of Utah.

"Everybody was jumping in there, ready to go," Smith said. "I mean, for a practice drill? Everybody was into it, and guys who were too injured to actually go in were cheering. It was just like football should be."

Notre Dame carried that over into Saturday's 28-3 win over No. 14 Utah, using an old-fashioned roughneck style to pound both lines of scrimmage. Kelly has preached toughness ever since taking the job this past winter, and his team finally showed it, mentally and physically, to beat its first ranked team in four years.

If the Irish go on to a bowl game and improve next season, Saturday's victory might be remembered as a turning point. Kelly sees it more as a natural progression.

"It's not a moment," he said. "It's the culmination of what we've been working on since December. You don't just pull these out of a hat."

Notre Dame still needs to beat Army this week or win at USC just to get to a minor bowl. The program has a long way to go. But steps in the right direction might have begun in an innocuous bye-week training drill.

Spurrier delivers on long-awaited promise

By Chris Low
ESPN.com

Perched on his players' shoulders at the end of the game Saturday night, Steve Spurrier was wearing that familiar smirk.

It was almost a bashful smirk.

But there he was -- in the Swamp, the Florida fans long gone, the South Carolina fans delirious and the scoreboard not doing justice to what had just transpired on the very field where the legend of the Head Ball Coach was born.

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AP Photo/John RaouxSteve Spurrier delivered an SEC East title to South Carolina after the Gamecocks won at his old stomping ground in Gainesville, Fla.

South Carolina didn't just beat Florida to secure its first trip to the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks punished the Gators, beat them up physically, played with more heart and played with more smarts in a 36-14 victory that won't be forgotten anytime soon in the Palmetto State.

Winning the Eastern Division was one thing for Spurrier and the Gamecocks, but going through the Gators to win it and doing it at the Swamp makes it all the more special.

After all, Spurrier's the one who named the place "the Swamp" back in the 1990s and changed the way they played football in the SEC with his Fun 'n' Gun offense.

He won six SEC championships along the way and will forever be an icon in Gator Nation.

But what he's accomplished at South Carolina rates up there with any of his coaching accomplishments.

Forget that the Eastern Division was down this season. It doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter that it's taken longer than most of the South Carolina fans had hoped.

All that matters is that the Gamecocks will get a chance on Dec. 4 in Atlanta to play for an SEC championship against Auburn, something a lot of people thought would never happen on Spurrier's watch, or anybody's watch, at South Carolina.

This is a program that's won more than eight games only twice in school history. Spurrier had lost five or more games in each of his first five seasons in Columbia.

The frustration of being average took its toll on a man who set the standard in the SEC in the 1990s.

Following an ugly Outback Bowl loss to Iowa two years ago, Spurrier admitted that he thought about walking away.

To read the rest of Chris Low's story, click here.

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