Originally Published: October 30, 2011

A surprisingly bumpy Saturday

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

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."

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Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireSammy Watkins and Clemson lost for the first time this season after falling to Georgia Tech.

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

By David Ubben
ESPN.com

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.

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Richard Rowe/US PresswireOklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden could be a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

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?

No problem.

Get ready for a fun one.

Emotional day for Louisville, Rutgers

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

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

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

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.

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Greg Bartram/US PresswireWith Braxton Miller, new Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman won't be lacking talent at quarterback next season.

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.

He winked.

"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

By Ted Miller
ESPN.com

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.

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