It's hard to go undefeated in college football
We are dumb.
There's no other way to explain how we keep forgetting an obvious truth every September and October, only to have its conspicuousness slap us in the face as the leaves change colors: It's really hard to go undefeated in college football.
We were hit over the head with this reminder again in the eighth week of the 2011 season, as two of the nation's seemingly most bulletproof teams saw their title hopes turn into an episode of "The Walking Dead."
Wisconsin's biggest worry last week was its No. 6 ranking in the initial BCS standings. Computer spreadsheets were the only thing the Badgers hadn't mauled in their first six games, as they had won every contest by at least 31 points and outscored their opponents by an average of 50-9.
But the Bucky bandwagon broke down in the same alley as last season: East Lansing. Spartan Stadium continues to double as Bret Bielema's personal house of horrors, and nothing will haunt him more than Michigan State's 44-yard, miracle touchdown pass on the final play of a 37-31 season-shattering loss. Wisconsin fans will forever debate whether Bielema should have called timeout after a Spartans completion with 30 seconds left, which wound up leaving just enough time for the Kirk Cousins-to-Keith Nichol Hail Mary.
An even more surprising result occurred in Norman. Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll, apparently because several voters had never heard of the SEC West. The Sooners were No. 3 in the BCS standings and looked as though they had the surest path to the BCS title game, knowing that LSU and Alabama would stage their own elimination game next month. Bob Stoops' team already had handled an early road test at Florida State and embarrassed Texas in the Red River Rivalry while winning by an average of 30 points this season.
But Boomer Sooner went bust against an unlikely obstacle. Texas Tech had lost two straight coming into this game and was a four-touchdown underdog. A few hours later, it somehow snapped Oklahoma's 39-game home winning streak in a 41-38 stunner. The Sooners had two turnovers to Tech's none and missed two field goals inside 40 yards, including one that bounced off the uprights late in the fourth quarter. Those are the types of ingredients necessary for this type of upset.
So now only eight undefeated teams remain, and there can be no more than six after the potentially epic Nov. 5 Alabama-LSU and Oklahoma State-Kansas State games. With Wisconsin and Oklahoma going down in Week 8, that opens the door for some possible fresh faces in the BCS title game. Clemson, Stanford and Boise State are among the schools sending Michigan State and Texas Tech flowers right now. Oklahoma State could very well be No. 3 in the BCS standings on Sunday night, perfectly positioned behind the two SEC powers for a national title shot. Houston has no realistic shot at New Orleans but will have at least an argument if it can ride Case Keenum to a 13-0 record.
There we go again, trying to project the future with five full weeks left in the regular season. It's very difficult to go undefeated. It's even harder for us dummies to remember that.
QBs make their mark
Which of these quarterback milestones achieved on Saturday is most impressive?
• Going a perfect 26-of-26 in one half?
• Winning a career 45 games and counting?
• Setting the NCAA record for total offense in a career?
There is no right answer, of course. Each of these accomplishments is impressive on its own.
The day started with East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis making headlines when he simply could not miss against Navy. Davis completed all 26 of his passes before halftime, setting an NCAA record for most consecutive completions in a game and most consecutive completions over more than one game.
Davis actually completed 36 straight passes dating back to a win over Memphis last week, topping the mark of 26 that Aaron Rodgers set in 2004 with California.
Davis' streak ended on his first throw in the third quarter, but he finished the game with just five incompletions, going 40-of-45 for 372 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-35 win. "I had no idea until after the game," Davis said. "When they told me, I was like, 'Wow, really?' It's amazing, but when you do your job and put the ball in your receiver's hands, that's what happens."
In Boise, Kellen Moore won his 45th game, tying him with Colt McCoy for the most career victories for a quarterback. Moore threw three touchdown passes in a 37-26 win over Air Force and has a chance to break the wins mark against UNLV on Nov. 5.
"It's a neat honor, but I'm in a fortunate situation," Moore said. "I've been fortunate to play for four years with a lot of great guys, and there's a lot of us and a bunch of people that got this record."
Meanwhile, Houston quarterback Case Keenum continues his assault on the NCAA record book a year removed from tearing his ACL. Keenum passed Timmy Chang (16,910 yards) for the FBS career total offense record after throwing for 376 yards in a 63-28 win over Marshall.
"It's awesome; it's incredible," Keenum said. "It's very special to be in a place like this in front of a home crowd and to be able to do that. Nobody else has been able to do that. It means a lot to me."
Keenum tied a career high with six touchdown passes and is within striking distance of two more marks: He needs 802 passing yards to take the NCAA career passing record (Chang, 17,072) and five touchdown passes to break the NCAA career mark of 134 set by Graham Harrell from 2005 to 2008 at Texas Tech.
Mistakes pile up for Sooners
NORMAN, Okla. -- Moments before scheduled kickoff, lightning cascaded through the Oklahoma sky, surrounding Owen Field. Perhaps an omen of what was to come.
Texas Tech, unranked and unheralded, stunned the undefeated Sooners 41-38 Saturday night, effectively ending the Sooners' chase for an eighth national championship on a field where they previously seemed unbeatable.
But Tech beat the Sooners -- soundly, too. Sure, OU made a game of it. But only after trailing 31-7 in the third quarter.
"We had a chance late to have a chance to win," Bob Stoops said. "But it was too little, too late."
The Sooners were fortunate just to have a chance to have a chance. OU was outtackled, outquarterbacked, outblocked, outkicked and outcoached.
"They whipped us in every part of the game," Stoops said. "Just flat-out beat us. Defensively, we really got outplayed. And offensively, just too little, too late."
Credit the Sooners for fighting. Despite getting smacked around, they had opportunities at the end to send the game to overtime. But the "Sooner Magic" fumed out late in the fourth quarter after Michael Hunnicutt's 28-yard field goal attempt clanged off the right upright, his second miss of the night. Fitting that OU's rally would end with a field goal try. But on this night, special teams were the least of the Sooners' problems.
To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.
Tide overcome shaky first half, point to LSU
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It finally can begin. The wait is over, and the Crimson Tide can finally utter three little letters that cause the ground to shake around these parts.
"We can all talk about LSU now," Alabama wide receiver Darius Hanks said while sporting an ear-to-ear smile.
"I'm looking forward to it. Lot of talk about LSU."
The distraction that is LSU might have come close to being the undoing of this team in a lazy, unorthodox first half that saw just six points next to Alabama's name on the scoreboard.
Thanks to a Nick Saban halftime speech in which Hanks said Saban "jumped our butts," the energy level rose to the degree that the 101,821 in attendance expected, and Alabama rolled right over Tennessee for the 37-6 victory.
Hanks didn't think that the team was necessarily looking two weeks ahead -- although players were huddled around watching LSU's win over Auburn before the game -- and attributed Alabama's sluggish start to arrogance more than anything.
"I think that guys thought that Tennessee was going to come out tonight and lay down and let us get a victory very easy, which they didn't," he said.
"It was nothing that Tennessee did. It was all us. The game was on our back the whole game."
An uneasiness circulated throughout the stadium at halftime. Fundamentally, players agreed that they were fine. Although there were some uncharacteristic mistakes like missed blocks and tackles, the players felt that what really kept them back was the team's attitude. The focus wasn't there in the first half.
Saban said he had worried about a lackluster start well before the game. With all the hype surrounding the Nov. 5 showdown with LSU, he feared during the week that talk would trickle into his locker room. He cringed when he heard the word "LSU" and wished he could have hid his players from the outside world until after Saturday.
To read the rest of Edward Aschoff's story, click here.
It's not all about Luck for Stanford
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- This is no way to win a Heisman Trophy. Forty-four rushes against Washington? What sort of otherworldly quarterback plays for a team that does that?
There are two responses to that. First, the rumor that Stanford is a one-player team has all the validity of the urban legend that mixing Pop Rocks and Coke will make your stomach explode. This team has plenty of arrows in its quiver.
Second, Stanford setting a school single-game rushing record with 446 yards actually is all about Luck. Or, at least, a lot about Luck. Unlike most college quarterbacks who are tightly controlled, he makes play calls at the line of scrimmage. He's checking into the running play that goes for 70 yards here or 34 yards there. He's opting not to pass, not to pad his statistics. He goes to the line with options -- sometimes just a couple; sometimes five or more -- and his job is to pick the right one. And he's perfectly willing not to call his own number if that's what the defense most fears.
One punt against the No. 25 Huskies suggests he did fairly well with that Saturday.
"The whole game was in Andrew's hands as far as getting to the right run play versus the right look, to the right pass play versus the right look," coach David Shaw said. "And he was 100 percent tonight. He was phenomenal."
Shaw, a Stanford man who's concerned with the use of clichés, acknowledged that calling Luck a "coach on the field" would be hackneyed. But let's just say it's hard to imagine that too many players have as much responsibility as Luck at the line of scrimmage. Then it wouldn't be much of a stretch to claim he goes two ways: player and coach.
"We sleep well at night because this guy is playing quarterback for us," Shaw said.
With that in mind, it seemed natural to ask Luck about the most important thing in college football other than winning: the beauty contest. With Wisconsin and Oklahoma falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, Stanford's tour de force performance figures to resonate with pollsters. We knew Stanford would do well in the talent portion of the contest, but the Cardinal picked a pretty good time to look good in a swimsuit, too.To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. Every team has at least one bad game. National champions figure out how to play a bad game and win anyway. In a crowded field of contenders, however, that standard has been raised. This season, the top teams have to figure out how to play a bad half and win anyway. No. 2 Alabama and No. 9 Arkansas did so Saturday. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 Wisconsin did not. Both staged praiseworthy comebacks and lost by the margin of one play. Or maybe by the margin of one half.
2. The losses by the Sooners and the Badgers reinforced the BCS title bids of No. 5 Boise State, No. 7 Clemson and No. 8 Stanford, all of which beat good conference opponents. The Cardinal's 65-21 rout of No. 25 Washington served notice that Stanford has the nation's best offense The Huskies schemed to stop quarterback Andrew Luck; the Cardinal rushed for a school-record 446 yards. Coaches talk about taking advantage of what the defense gives. Few offenses breathe life into that cliché as does Stanford.
3. Has Joe Paterno climbed the last mountain? Now that the Penn State icon has tied Eddie Robinson at 408 Division I career victories, what else is there? Paterno won't coach long enough to threaten the all-division leader in coaching wins, John Gagliardi of Div. III St. John's (Minn.), who has won 481 games. In other words, there's one fish in the sea the Old Man won't catch. Poor guy -- he'll have to take solace in coaching for the benefits of molding young people. Which, of course, is what he has done since 1950.
Highlights: Texas Tech-Oklahoma
GameDay crew final thoughts
A program-defining win for Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech and a great performance by Seth Doege.
I think we ought to reassess the Heisman race a bit. There will be the perception after Russell Wilson's loss, even though he rallied to get Wisconsin back into the game, that it's a two-man race between Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson. While those two guys are the front-runners, I think it's fair to look at Tajh Boyd or even a receiver like Sammy Watkins as someone who could be considered for the rest of the season.
Oklahoma's loss also underscores something else. Even when you have a terrific team, as the Sooners still do, it's so difficult to maintain focus -- or if you don't come with focus, to regain it -- during the game. That LSU came out and just controlled that game against Auburn from start to finish and dominated was impressive. Equally as impressive was the way Alabama seemingly flipped a switch in the second half and took care of its business. Oklahoma was unable to do that. Now, it's fair to say Oklahoma was playing far better competition, but still, over the course of a year, this is when upsets tend to happen. Teams get a little fatigued and a little flat and tend to take things for granted. The eight remaining unbeaten teams haven't had that happen to them yet and the two with the biggest targets on their backs have really answered the bell. The Tigers and Tide have won every game by a significant margin, and it really sets things up for the game in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5 to be everything it's purported to be.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Seth Doege, Texas Tech
441 passing yards, 4 TDs in win at Oklahoma
• QB Kirk Cousins/WR Keith Nichol, Michigan State
44-yard TD pass-catch combo with no time left to defeat Wisconsin.
You have to be lucky to win a championship, and Oklahoma wasn't. You have to be lucky in one game. Oklahoma missed a field goal, and the game could've gone into overtime, but the Sooners lost their chance. Wisconsin could've won it in overtime, just like Oklahoma, but little things made the difference.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Case Keenum, Houston
376 passing yards, 6 TDs in win versus Marshall
• Coach Joe Paterno, Penn State
408th career win, ties Eddie Robinson for second-most in NCAA history
I was impressed by Kirk Cousins' resiliency and belief in his teammates' ability to find a way to win. It's just hard for me to believe that after Wisconsin went up 14 points, it couldn't go to its run game, pound it out and stick to what it does best. For the Badgers' special teams to make the gaffes that they made back-to-back -- one blocked field goal and the blocked punt -- that really took away the momentum away.
I'm surprised at how Oklahoma gave up that many yards at home to Seth Doege, who had a huge game with 441 yards and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). But the Sooners were playing at home, where they had won 39 consecutive games, and to lose the way they did, after beating Texas Tech in their past nine games by an average of 29 points, was a big shocker. Basically, all they had to do was win out, and would have played for a national championship.
Two other teams that had to take care of business -- LSU and Alabama -- took care of business. When they needed to score they got it done.
And the way that Stanford's offensive line -- which allowed zero sacks and had more than 400 yards rushing against another Top 25 team -- was very impressive because it made a statement to the rest of the Pac-12.
Highlights: Wisconsin-Michigan State
Blog Network: What we learned
Wake Forest is Clemson's biggest challenger in the Atlantic Division and continues to find a way to win.
Oklahoma State looks like the Big 12's best team. The road to the Big 12 title goes through
Stillwater? Get used to it.
Syracuse's Doug Marrone proved once again why he is one of the most underrated coaches in the nation.
About half the league has been juggling quarterbacks this season, but the position appeared to come into focus.
Although there are still some concerns ahead, if Stanford wins out, it will be in good position to play for the national title.
An all-SEC national title game isn't far-fetched. It will take some more help, but it doesn't seem as impossible as it did before.
George Atkinson has made a huge difference. Atkinson's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave ND much-needed momentum.
Highlights: Arkansas-Ole Miss
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: Tajh Boyd; Chris Givens; David Amerson
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Seth Doege; Collin Klein; Joseph Randle
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Zach Collaros; Chandler Jones; Ryan Nassib
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Marvin McNutt; Kawann Short; Silas Redd
More Big Ten stickers
Tim Kish; Josh Kaddu; Zach Maynard
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: CoShik Williams; Dennis Johnson; Zac Stacy
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: George Atkinson; Tyler Eifert; Harrison Smith
More Notre Dame stickers