Matchups that could decide conference races
There is still plenty of football remaining, but if Saturday taught us anything, we now know that just about all of the major conference races will be decided by one game.
We learned how top-heavy these conferences are and how far apart the leaders are from the rest of their conference mates.
Just look at the SEC. Not only are Alabama and LSU miles ahead of the rest of the league, but both are undeniably the class of the entire country. Saturday, both wiped away their opponents with relative ease on the road.
LSU walked all over Tennessee in a 38-7 drubbing Saturday afternoon, while the night belonged to Alabama. The Crimson Tide's punishing defense totally dismantled Ole Miss, and running back Trent Richardson is still shaking off tackles after a 52-7 shellacking of the Rebels.
When these two teams meet in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5, the college football ground will literally shake. Eyes from all over the country will be watching a game surrounded by hype that will be similar to that of a national championship. The winner is in the SEC and national driver's seat.
The real shame is that with both teams playing in the SEC West, there won't be a rematch in the SEC title game. This is it.
With Oklahoma's 47-17 win over Kansas and Oklahoma State outlasting Texas 38-26, these two are on a collision course to have Bedlam decide the Big 12. The Sooners still have to go to Kansas State on Oct. 29 (which has become the darling of the conference as it continues its improbable 2011 run), host Texas A&M on Nov. 5 and play at Baylor on Nov. 19.
The Cowboys have a lighter road, with their toughest game coming at home against Kansas State on Nov. 5.
Over in the Big Ten, Wisconsin continues to prove that, like Alabama and LSU, it's far and away the best in its conference. The Badgers' 59-7 win over Indiana reminded us that they might be too explosive for the rest of the Big Ten.
Wisconsin's toughest remaining game could come next week with its trip to East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State owns the nation's second-ranked defense, but does it have the grit and speed to slow down Wisconsin and Russell Wilson?
Fortunately, now that the Big Ten has joined the rest of the college football world and formed divisions, these two could meet again in the Big Ten championship game.
Finally, there is the Pac-12. If you didn't have the strength to stay up and watch Oregon and Stanford play Saturday night, you missed some good, fast football. Oregon was without its most dynamic player in running back LaMichael James and lost starting quarterback Darron Thomas, yet it racked up more than 500 yards of offense in a 41-27 win over Arizona State.
After an opening-night loss to LSU, the Ducks are cruising through conference play, averaging 47 points per game in league play. Oregon didn't need all of Thomas or James on Saturday, but when the Ducks hit the road to play Stanford on Nov. 12, you better believe they will need to be at full health.
The Andrew Luck-led Cardinal clobbered Washington State on Saturday, 44-14. Two of their next three games will be on the road, at USC and Oregon State. Securing those wins will mean the Oregon game will decide the Pac-12 North.
Anything and everything can happen in college football, but here is to hoping these games mean as much as we think they will. The pleading for a playoff is louder than ever, and if these games are what we hope, these next few weeks could be the next best thing.
Broncos stay focused on the field
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Boise State has been the subject of rapidly escalating realignment talk all week. Would the Broncos become the next member of the Big East?
President Bob Kustra certainly has no answers. No invitation has been delivered. No face-to-face meeting has been had. No in-depth discussions have taken place.
Yet the expansion craze engulfed another Top 25 team, dominating headlines and taking the focus away from the field. Do you want to know what Boise State players thought about it? "We don't talk about it. We don't care about it," quarterback Kellen Moore said.
No, not when the Broncos still have so much to play for this season. Yes, that's right, they played a game on Saturday. And as usual, No. 5 Boise State dominated its opponent -- this time Colorado State 63-13 in the Broncos' Mountain West debut.
The Broncos rolled up a school-record 742 yards of total offense. Moore was as stellar as always, starting the game with 18 straight completions and finishing 26-of-30 for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Doug Martin had a career-high 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Tyler Shoemaker had a career-high 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Boise State held the Rams to 84 yards rushing, 147 yards passing and 1-of-12 on third down.
Simply put, the Broncos were an absolute machine. "We're getting into a little bit of a rhythm, but every week throws you twists and turns," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.
It's rare when a week throws you as many twists and turns as this week, when realignment reached a fevered pitch. Kustra addressed all the speculation before the game Saturday, saying he wanted to keep all his options on the table, but had only informational discussions with the Big East.
There is no way the Broncos can make a decision about their future when there are so many unknowns. The Big East does not know whether it will be able to hang onto all its schools. The Big East does not know whether it will be able to hang onto its all-important automatic qualifier status -- something the Broncos have desperately sought. "They have to figure out what they're going to do, and from what I read, they really haven't made those decisions yet, so whenever that day comes, if in fact it would mean anything for our program, then would come the due diligence on our part," Kustra said. "But it's way premature since I have no indication of what they're up to and what their next steps are."
For the actual football team, the next steps are always the same. Win, and hope that is enough to get recognized at the end of the season.
Illinois still has chance to prove itself
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Nathan Scheelhaase knew people were waiting for Illinois to stumble.
Whether it's a dislike for Illinois coach Ron Zook, a belief the Illini's schedule was designed for a 6-0 start (with five consecutive home games and a road contest at Indiana), an overall doubt in their talent or other reasons, the Illini haven't had many national backers. Even before Saturday, there were critics who considered Illinois to be one of the worst teams in the Top 25.
With the Illini suffering their first defeat of the season Saturday -- a 17-7 loss to Ohio State -- those same people will have a field day.
Scheelhaase, the Illini's sophomore signal-caller, gets that. "Doubters are going to say what they can," Scheelhaase said. "The best thing about Big Ten play and college football is you got another chance to prove yourself next week. That's where our mindset is at. We can't worry about what people are saying. I'm sure people are going to say stuff, and they have the right to."
Whether those doubters are right is another story.
It was unfair to reward Illinois too much for its 6-0 start. It is also unfair to demean it too much for Saturday's loss.
So what is fair to say about Illinois? That's still to be too determined. With Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin remaining on the schedule, there's still a chance for Illinois to prove itself worthy of either praise or ridicule.
To read the rest of Scott Powers' story, click here.
Sooners continue to sputter in red zone
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Good thing Oklahoma has uncovered a reliable field goal kicker. Because lately, the Sooners have been settling for a lot of field goals.
Saturday night against the worst statistical defense in college football, OU's otherwise high-powered offense continued to sputter in the red zone.
Eight times the Sooners drove the ball inside the Kansas 20-yard line. Only thrice did they punch the ball in.
Much good could be gleaned from the 47-17 victory over Kansas. The Sooners stunk it up in the first half and still nearly covered a five-touchdown spread.
Ryan Broyles broke multiple records, including Taylor Stubblefield's NCAA career receptions mark, with a monster 13-catch, 217-receiving-yard performance.
After halftime, the defense was phenomenal, limiting Kansas to 54 total yards and a single first down the entire second half.
And Michael Hunnicutt tied an OU single-game record with four field goals.
Alas, that was also the problem, and it overshadowed the rest of the game. "Sorry we didn't score every time -- we're working on it," coach Bob Stoops said, downplaying the issue. "It's typical, we always score 47, so everyone's like, 'How'd you not get 60? You should've scored every time in the red zone.'"
Outside of Stoops, though, nobody brushed off how the Sooners have been faring inside the 20.
"Right now, it's not very good," said quarterback Landry Jones, who completed 50 percent of his passes in the red zone but was 64 percent everywhere else. "We're just not executing down there."
It's been tough sledding down there for the Sooners all season. Going into the night, OU ranked No. 66 nationally in touchdown conversion rate, a ranking that figures to plummet further. "It needs to be better in the red zone, getting 7s instead of 3s," said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. "Doing our assignments, couple better play calls, guys finishing blocks, the whole thing. It's not just one guy. "
Credit Heupel for attempting everything in his playbook. He tried pounding the ball with Dominique Whaley. He called screens and fades. He even resorted to chicanery, flexing tackle Donald Stephenson wide left.
But nothing worked consistently.To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.
Ducks down and out? Not quite
EUGENE, Ore. -- How bad did things look for Oregon early in the third quarter against Arizona State? Let us count the ways.
One, running back LaMichael James, the best running back in college football, was on the Ducks' sideline in street clothes with a dislocated elbow. Two, he had been joined by QB Darron Thomas, who hurt his knee on a three-and-out possession to start the second half. Three, the Sun Devils took the ball and raced 67 yards in four plays -- all running -- to take a 24-21 lead. And four, redshirt freshman QB Bryan Bennett was coming off the bench cold for his first meaningful career action on ESPN.
The Four Sun Devils of the Duckapocalypse!
Number five is the doozy: With Bennett running the show, Oregon asserted its will, wore down the Sun Devils, took over the game and won impressively, 41-27, rushing for 269 of its 327 yards in the second half. "I had to pull myself together and be poised and go out there and lead this offense," Bennett explained.
Oregon has an unquestioned superstar in James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner. And it has a second-team All-Pac-Conference QB in Thomas. But there's more to this team. The Ducks also have a defense that can make a stand and several players who are mostly unknown outside the Ducks' maniacal fan base but fully capable of breaking an opponent's heart.
To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. When you look at the tendrils of rebuilding sprouting at Texas, when you hear Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy praise the talent of the young Longhorns after the Cowboys' 38-26 victory, when you recognize the hope and optimism on the Forty Acres even as Texas lost its fifth straight Big 12 home game, you realize how former Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy's playmaking and leadership masked the decay that had overtaken Mack Brown's program. I'm thinking about asking to recast my 2009 Heisman ballot.
2. We pause amid the rampant speculation about the future of the Big East to point out that there's a good race brewing for the BCS bid that awaits the league champ. The two most impressive teams in the league, No. 13 West Virginia and Cincinnati, each have significant hurdles. The Mountaineers must play at the Bearcats on Nov. 12; however, that's Cincinnati's only home game in the next five. Meanwhile, Rutgers, quietly 5-1 after its 21-20 defeat of Navy, gets both West Virginia and Cincinnati at home. Hmmm
3. The biggest argument among the ESPN.com staff as we assembled our preseason All-American team in August focused on wide receivers. We shuffled and reshuffled Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma, Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State and Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina. The first two have lived up to the hype. But Jeffery, who has 30 receptions for 451 yards and five touchdowns in seven games, serves as a reminder that wideouts, no matter how talented, can't show off their skills if the quarterback can't deliver the ball.
GameDay crew final thoughts
I think Arizona State is a really talented team, and certainly it hurt itself with undisciplined play at times. But I thought Oregon's ability to not only be without LaMichael James but be without Darron Thomas and win decisively against Arizona State was very impressive. It's a testament to the way Chip Kelly coaches his team, the way he never allows them to lose focus and the pace at which they practice. I've been lucky enough to see it a couple of times; they get a lot of guys involved. Bryan Bennett was ready to play when called on, and he made some tremendous plays in the running game. Very impressive to me by Oregon.
The other thing that jumped out to me was a lot of times when we trot out stats about a team not winning at a certain place in a long time or eight of nine times like Georgia Tech did at Virginia, sometimes there's a reason for that. Sometimes teams just don't have good fortune at certain stadiums. Georgia Tech going to Virginia and losing again was certainly an example of that, but it was also an example of how the Virginia program is quickly improving and growing under Mike London, and it was a huge win for them.
And perhaps the most important thing is now we only have one more hurdle: one more hurdle for LSU and one more hurdle for Alabama before we can have a Super Bowl-like buildup over the next two weeks finally awaiting the game. Even playing against overmatched opponents who had no reasonable chance to beat them barring some type of fluke, I was impressed with the way the Tigers and Tide went on the road and took care of their business. I think a lot of times so many people are looking ahead at a big game like that, it's easy to overlook what's right there in front of you. But neither team did that. Both of them played well. And for people who thought that Trent Richardson would just bludgeon his way into Heisman Trophy candidacy, he also showed a little signature moment with the great, long run against Ole Miss.
Helmet stickers go to:
• WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
11 receptions, 206 yards, school-record 4 TDs in 55-28 win versus Baylor
• DE Derrick Shelby, Utah,
7 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, interception returned for a TD in 26-14 win at Pittsburgh
Things are continuing to take shape. The winning teams are continuing to dominate, and it'll be interesting to see if that continues. Now, Nov. 5 is the showdown (between LSU and Alabama) that seems to be inevitable. In the SEC East, Georgia has a bye next weekend, and it's starting to look like South Carolina will have to win out to win the East Division because of the way Georgia is playing right now. And in the ACC, it looks like Clemson is for real.
Helmet stickers go to:
• DT John Simon, Ohio State
8 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks in 17-7 win at Illinois
• QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
110 rushing yards, 3 TDs, 146 passing yards, TD in 41-34 win at Texas Tech
Bill Snyder and Kansas State do it again. We talk each and every week about how the Wildcats find a way to pull it out and beat good teams no matter whether it's home or away. They keep doing it with their quarterback Collin Klein. He had three touchdowns on the ground and another throwing for one. It's just impressive the way this team has bought into his philosophy, and they really give the effort from top to bottom, 60 minutes every week. There's no let-up with this football team, and I thought they were impressive.
And Dabo, Dabo, Dabo. He keeps doing it each and every week with Clemson. The Tigers find a way to win on the road. They did it at Virginia Tech, and they did it at Maryland with a come-from-behind victory. This team doesn't give up. I really think they're coming together as a team, and they're really excited about their young team. When you look at this team, there aren't a lot of seniors, and I think they're only going to get better. And as long as they can convince themselves that they're a good team now, I think they've got a great chance to win the ACC championship if they continue to play the way that they are and stay healthy.
And Florida with all the talent that was left on the Gators, the way they started out the season and then they've come out and thrown up three duds. It's no embarrassment to lose to Alabama or LSU, but the way that they lost was an embarrassment -- particularly offensively. I don't care if they are starting their fifth quarterback, this is Florida. To go to Auburn and play that way and not be able to score more than six points at Auburn is embarrassing. I don't care. The Tigers' defense is one of the worst in the SEC. The Gators have got to fix that problem and fix it in a hurry.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Edwin Baker, Michigan State
167 rushing yards, TD in 28-14 win versus Michigan
• WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
School-record 345 all-purpose yards, 3 TDs in 56-45 win at Maryland
Highlights: Georgia Tech-Virginia
Blog Network: What we learned
Clemson freshman Sammy Watkins is the new C.J. Spiller. Only better. Thanks to Watkins, the Tigers stand alone in the ACC.
Oklahoma State isn't letting up anytime soon. After earning its eighth straight road win, this team is unflappable.
Pitt is in trouble. If it continues to play this poorly, its bowl prospects will be in serious jeopardy.
Michigan hasn't arrived. The Wolverines are clearly not anywhere near ready to be ranked in the top 10.
Utah can be a pretty good team when it doesn't beat itself with mistakes. When the Utes play smart football, they're tough.
The gap is getting wider. The truth is LSU and Alabama are in their own league. Who's ready for Nov. 5 to get here?
Highlights: Arizona St.-Oregon
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Al Golden; Virginia; EJ Manuel
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Ryan Swope; James Franklin; Jeremy Smith
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Jawan Jamison; Isaiah Pead; Khaseem Greene
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Edwin Baker; Montee Ball; Marcus Coker
More Big Ten stickers
Keith Price; Andrew Luck; Bryan Bennett
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Marlon Brown; Trent Richardson; John Chavis
More SEC stickers
LSU continues to dominate
• Top-ranked LSU beat Tennessee 38-7, improving to 7-0 for the second straight season. LSU has trailed for just 6:33 in 420 minutes of football this season.
• Ohio State handed Illinois its first loss of the season. Ohio State's only completion of the game was a touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner. Ohio State is the third team from a BCS AQ conference since 2000 to win a game with a single completed pass. Georgia Tech has done it twice over that span.