A surprisingly bumpy Saturday
The calm before college football's upcoming storm was surprisingly bumpy this past Saturday.
As the country began to shift its focus toward No. 1 LSU's showdown at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, two undefeated teams and a handful of ranked teams were upset this weekend, bringing the BCS national championship race into greater clarity with five weeks to go in the regular season.
No. 5 Clemson, which was off to its best start since 2000, suffered its first loss, 31-17 at Georgia Tech on Saturday night. Tevin Washington ran for 176 yards -- the most ever by a Yellow Jackets quarterback -- and the Tigers allowed 383 rushing yards and committed four turnovers. Georgia Tech was coming off consecutive losses after starting the season 6-0.
"We know what we can do as a team," Washington said. "It's not about falling down. It's about getting back up."
Oklahoma, which saw its national title hopes take a serious hit with last week's 41-38 loss to Texas Tech, had no problems climbing to its feet in a 58-17 rout at No. 8 Kansas State on Saturday. Sooners quarterback Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards with five touchdowns, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season. OU receiver Ryan Broyles caught 14 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown, and the No. 9 Sooners gained 690 yards of total offense.
"We bounced back the way we should," OU receiver Jaz Reynolds said.
No. 6 Stanford nearly saw its perfect season end abruptly before pulling out a 56-48 victory in three overtimes at Southern California. With the score tied at 27 with less than four minutes to play in regulation, USC's Nickell Robey intercepted Andrew Luck's pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to give the Trojans a 34-27 lead. But Luck directed a late scoring drive, with Stepfan Taylor tying the score at 34 on a 2-yard run with 38 seconds left.
Taylor scored again on a 5-yard run to give Stanford a 56-48 lead in the third overtime, and then USC's Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone to end the game.
"We talked about fighting adversity," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I didn't know there was going to be this much adversity, but the kids fought through, and I love them to death for it."
Sometimes, handling prosperity can be even more difficult than fighting through adversity. No. 11 Michigan State, which last week upset then-No. 6 Wisconsin 37-31 on a Hail Mary pass on the final play, ran out of gas in a 24-3 loss at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Badgers lost their second game in a row on Saturday, 33-29 at Ohio State.
Texas Tech, which ended Oklahoma's 39-game home winning streak a week ago, couldn't even beat struggling Iowa State at home on Saturday, allowing 512 yards of offense in a 41-7 loss.
"They came in ready to play, and they took advantage of us not [being] really focused, coaching or playing the first or second half," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I take total blame for that. I saw a lot of it coming during the week."
Sooners, Cowboys on track for showdown
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Brandon Weeden had wrapped up a day of easy interviews after an even easier win over Baylor and had one big question of his own. "Hey, what happened in that A&M game?" he asked me.
The other prime contender in the Big 12 title race had been eliminated, that's what happened. Texas A&M lost to Missouri for its second Big 12 loss. Oklahoma State can deliver Kansas State's elimination next week.
Oklahoma, which will host Texas A&M, and the Cowboys will have one combined conference loss if both teams take care of business.
On Saturday, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State made strong statements, beating two good teams that were separated by only a point when they matched up earlier this year. No. 3 Oklahoma State rolled to a 59-24 win over Baylor, and No. 9 Oklahoma scored the game's final 35 points in a 58-17 win over No. 8 Kansas State.
The stage clearly has been set. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State still have three steps in front of them. After a wild Saturday and the Sooners' loss last week as a 28-point favorite, none of those is a given.
That said, they stated their case as the Big 12's two best teams by a wide, wide margin (41 points, to be exact) loud and clear on Saturday. Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech last week may mean the Bedlam on Dec. 3 won't be for its semifinal spot in the national title game, but Oklahoma State may still be on track to play for college football's crown.
Either way, the Big 12 will end in fitting fashion. On the season's final weekend, in the league's final game in prime time, the Big 12 title almost certainly will be on the line. That's exactly what this league could have hoped for after eliminating the Big 12 title game this season when the league shrunk from 12 teams to 10.
Fitting, too, that both teams embody everything you know about the Big 12. They're fast-paced offenses that love to sling it, hoping to outscore opponents, as each team's questionable defenses can be subject to sloppy performances. Weeden and his Sooner State counterpart, Landry Jones, are two of the nation's best quarterbacks. On the first weekend in December, they'll take the field with a whole lot to play for.
No Big 12 championship?
Get ready for a fun one.
Emotional day for Louisville, Rutgers
The emotions began before their games kicked off.
Both Louisville and Rutgers got incredible lifts from an inspirational teammate. For the Cardinals, it was seeing Anthony Conner in the locker room as they prepared to face Syracuse. He wore a thick, gray neck brace, but he was able to walk on his own and see his teammates for the first time since he was seriously injured with a broken neck last week.
For Rutgers, it was having Eric LeGrand lead the team onto the field moments before playing West Virginia. LeGrand was paralyzed after making a tackle just more than a year ago, and coach Greg Schiano made a promise to LeGrand: He would someday get to lead the Scarlet Knights onto the field again.
Louisville wore helmet stickers with AC on them and vowed to play for Conner. The Cardinals did that with an impressive defensive performance in a 27-10 win over Syracuse. They sacked Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib four times and held the Orange to season lows in points and total offense (246 yards).
The Cardinals (4-4, 2-1) have quietly inserted themselves into the conference race, although they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Big East leader Cincinnati. Still, they were able to win consecutive league games for the first time since 2006.
Afterward, coach Charlie Strong gave Conner a game ball.
"We've been basing everything off AC," Louisville safety Hakeem Smith said. "We set our hearts on playing for AC. Everything we did was for him. We had to show him that we really meant it was for him. When he came out onto the field, it was a great feeling."
Rutgers got off to a terrific start against West Virginia, too, racing to a 31-21 halftime lead during a furious snowstorm. The Scarlet Knights posted a season high for first-half scoring, and the Mountaineers looked as though they were still suffering the aftereffects of a 49-23 loss to Syracuse last week.
But West Virginia ended the game with 20 unanswered points, aided in part by several untimely Rutgers turnovers, and won 41-31. The Scarlet Knights (5-3, 2-2) have lost 17 straight to the Mountaineers (6-2, 2-1) and fell further behind in the Big East standings.
Miller time for Buckeyes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- About the only thing more surprising than Braxton Miller's on-the-run, nearly past-the-line-of-scrimmage, 40-yard touchdown heave with 20 seconds left on the clock was what he had done moments earlier.
Ohio State's rocky season was on the brink. A Buckeyes team that had controlled play against No. 15 Wisconsin and dominated stretches of the second half found itself trailing 29-26 with 1:10 left. A defense that had stifled Wisconsin's high-powered offense had suffered a breakdown at the worst possible time, leading to the Badgers' go-ahead score.
A third Ohio State loss this season would essentially eliminate the team from the Big Ten title chase. It would mark another blow for a proud program that had taken so many shots during a miserable eight-month stretch. It would heighten questions about coach Luke Fickell's future and bring back the doom and gloom that enveloped the team during an 0-2 start to Big Ten play.
Unless a quarterback who had completed one pass in Ohio State's previous game against Illinois could work some magic in a likely passing situation, the Buckeyes would go down in defeat.
The Shoe was deflated. Miller wasn't. Before Miller took the field for the decisive drive, he let Fickell know things would be OK.
"I gave him a little, you know, 'We got it, man. Don't worry about nothing,'" a smiling Miller recalled. "I knew we had it."
He might have been the only one. A Wisconsin team that had rallied the week before at Michigan State only to lose on a Hail Mary surely wouldn't allow any openings for Ohio State.
But as Miller rolled to his right, he spotted classmate Devin Smith in the end zone and let it fly.
To read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story, click here.
Perfect ending for Stanford
LOS ANGELES -- At first glance, this bit of epic college football poetry that was Stanford's 56-48 triple-overtime victory over USC ended with an inglorious thud. Trojans tailback Curtis McNeal fumbled on first-and-goal from the Cardinal 4-yard line. Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley picked up the ball. Game over. Four hours of tumultuous, thrilling football, and it ended with a sloppy miscue.
It was like someone painted a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Or dumped a dollop of Miracle Whip on a beautiful rib eye. Or changed the ending of "The Usual Suspects," having agent Dave Kujan tell Verbal Kint, "Hey, I figured it out. You're Keyser Söze. You're under arrest." Roll credits.
That's the first glance, but the more measured view sees perfection in an artless ending. Sure, it would be nice to storyboard every game so it plays out "Miracle on Ice," but the process of winning a national championship includes plenty of sausage making. It includes ugly wins, strange plays, favorable officiating and good fortune. It includes moments when your team looks eminently beatable.
Remember Terrence Cody, Alabama's 350-pound noseguard, blocking a 44-yard field goal attempt on the final play against a mediocre Tennessee team to preserve a 12-10 victory in 2009? Auburn beat Clemson and Kentucky by three points each in 2010. Or recall the "Bush Push," a linchpin of USC's run to the 2005 title game.
When Andrew Luck, who is reputed to have been forged by Hephaestus to play quarterback better than anyone has before, hurled a 33-yard pick-six to cornerback Nickell Robey and the Trojans jumped ahead 34-27 with 3:08 left, an entire country gasped. Forget its un-Heisman-like statement. It looked as though Luck himself would be responsible for the end of the nation's longest winning streak as well as the Cardinal's national title dreams.
To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. In a match of the two least consistent teams in the Pac-12, if not on God's green Earth, UCLA defeated California 31-14 and provided a much-needed boost to coach Rick Neuheisel. The victory stands out as an example of what UCLA has been missing under Neuheisel. In his four seasons, UCLA has won only five other Pac-12 games by more than 10 points. None of those four teams won more than two games in a season. Cal is 4-4. UCLA, now 4-4, has a good chance to reach its second bowl game under Neuheisel.
2. Is any division screwier than the Big Ten Leaders? Ten days ago, Wisconsin was undefeated and in the BCS championship hunt. Now the Badgers are 2-2 in league play and tied with Purdue and -- could it be? -- Ohio State, a team that spent the first six weeks of the season celebrating every first down. No. 19 Penn State (8-1, 5-0) quietly built a two-and-a-half-game lead thanks to a balloon mortgage of a schedule. Now the bill is due -- the Nittany Lions must play No. 14 Nebraska, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.
3. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier won the 193rd game of his 22-season career Saturday. As speculation persists that Spurrier, 66, won't hang around to pursue No. 200 next season, and uncertainty over Mark Richt's future with Georgia (6-2, 5-1) hovers even as the Dawgs came from behind Saturday to defeat archrival Florida 24-20, consider this: It's possible that the SEC East's top two teams, the only two with the same head coaches they had in 2009, could be making changes soon. What a business.
GameDay crew final thoughts
Sometimes you hear a knee-jerk negative reaction when a player receives a lot of praise. But there are times when a player earns that praise. Andrew Luck earned it in what wasn't his best night. But he still put up good numbers and led his team, and to still have his team believe even after he made a huge mistake is much of a defining quality as his physical skill set.
At the same time, I believe we should give a lot of props to Lane Kiffin and USC for the way they've improved and played. USC thought that its offensive line, save a spot or two, would be a weak link, but it's been a strong suit for the past two or three weeks. The offensive line has played very well, and the defense has really improved. I think Kiffin is doing a really good job under some difficult circumstances, and will benefit the whole Pac-12.
One of the toughest things for a coach is to instill is the ability to make plays to win when he coaches in a losing environment. I think James Franklin at Vanderbilt is doing a fantastic job. And it's not because the kids aren't good players; sometimes I think it's just because they want so badly to please their coach, get over the hump and make winning plays that they just don't. It's a very nebulous thing to teach, and you can't describe how it's accomplished. But when Vanderbilt and Duke, for that matter, can take that next step, they'll start winning some close games. On the one hand, it was impressive for Vanderbilt to have a chance against a very good Arkansas team. But it was a heartbreaking loss, and that underscores the difficulty in creating a winning atmosphere.
Every week you have a different team that surprises you with a loss. Look at Texas Tech. One week after beating Oklahoma, it comes home and loses 41-7 to Iowa State.
It's two terribly heartbreaking losses for Wisconsin, but a great win for Ohio State. That sets up a big Penn State-Ohio State game on Nov. 19.
Conference races are starting to take hold. The SEC East is down to two teams. South Carolina controls its own fate. All it has to do is win out, but the Gamecocks have to go to Arkansas on Saturday, and that will be a big challenge. Georgia will host Auburn on Nov. 12, and both should win their remaining conference games after that. In the Pac-12, it looks like a showdown between Oregon and Stanford in two weeks.
But the big matchup is Alabama and LSU, while Boise State is still hanging in there.
Helmet stickers go to:
• LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
4.0 sacks, 5 tackles, forced fumble in win versus Florida
• QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
505 passing yards (school record), 5 TDs in win at Kansas State
Stanford showed a lot in coming back and winning in overtime. The Cardinal were tested, and true champions find a way to win when they're tested.
Everyone has been expecting Clemson to lose, and that other shoe finally dropped. The Tigers turned the ball over too many times, and they had opportunities to score but didn't. Being held to 17 points by Georgia Tech was huge.
The other game that stood out to me was Oklahoma coming back and showing that it is back on track after last week's loss to Texas Tech. That game was a fluke, and the Sooners showed that by coming back and stomping Kansas State on the road. Plus, Landry Jones threw for 505 yards to break the school record.
And congratulations to Joe Paterno for passing Eddie Robinson to become the all-time leader in coaching wins in Division I with 409.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
130 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, 1 receiving TD in win versus Michigan State
• QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
99 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, 89 passing yards, 1 passing TD in win versus Wisconsin
Highlights: Wisconsin-Ohio State
Blog Network: What we learned
The ACC no longer has a national championship contender or a Heisman candidate. It happened that quickly.
Kansas State was a pretender. The Wildcats are good. I (and plenty of others) contended all season they were not elite. Any questions?
UConn dropped to 3-5 on the season and needs to win three of its final four to become bowl-eligible. The Huskies face a tough task.
The race to Indy is wide-open. Division play, parity and the lack of a dominant team have combined to add serious drama in the title chase.
Stanford can win a brawl. It was reasonable to wonder how Stanford might handle itself when challenged. The Cardinal answered that question.
Florida's troubles stretch well beyond the QB position. Outside of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, the Gators have no playmakers.
The Irish have done a solid job against the option. The defense put on a very impressive performance against Navy.
Highlights: Missouri-Texas A&M
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: Tevin Washington; Rolandan Finch; Mark Stoops
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: James Franklin; Landry Jones; Oklahoma State's defense
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Shawne Alston; Preston Brown; Tino Sunseri
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Fitzgerald Toussaint; Drake Dunsmore; Rex Burkhead
More Big Ten stickers
Chris Polk; John White; Kevin Prince
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Mark Richt; Jarvis Jones; Clint Moseley
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Michael Floyd; Jonas Gray; Cierre Wood
More Notre Dame stickers