Well, yet another wild and unpredictable weekend of college football is in the books, followed by the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings that paint a picture of just how crazy things have been. Ohio State, LSU and Oklahoma in the top five is something that is almost expected, given the proud histories of these programs. But South Florida and Boston College at two and three, respectively? Yes, two teams that weren’t even ranked when the season began (how Florida State was ranked in the preseason and BC was not is beyond me) have a good shot at playing for a national title…if they can run the table from here on out. But going undefeated, usually thought to be a prerequisite to playing for the title, may not be as important in 2007. In the BCS standings, the next undefeated team is Arizona State at number eight. The top 25 in the BCS standings are as follows:
1. Ohio State
2. South Florida
3. Boston College
6. South Carolina
8. Arizona State
9. West Virginia
11. Virginia Tech
24. Texas Tech
Hawaii, thought to be the last hope of a non-BCS school crashing the lucrative bowl party at season’s end, appears to have been punished by the pollsters and computers for their schedule to this point along with some close calls against teams perceived to be weak. The most surprising ranking may actually be USC all the way at 14, a long way from their rankings in the polls of either 1 or 2 before the loss to Stanford. California sits two spots behind an Oregon team they beat in Eugene, and Tennessee is a spot behind a Georgia club that they blew out last weekend. But as we’ve learned throughout the years of the BCS, the rankings don’t always have to make sense; they just have to get numbers one and two. Now, on to some other observations on the week that was.
1. Although football is indeed a team game, sometimes a one-on-one battle makes all the difference.
Fourth and two, third overtime in Lexington with Kentucky leading number one LSU 43-37. Handoff to Charles Scott, who’d previously gashed the Wildcats for 93 yards on six carries. Scott needed to end up with seven for 95, but if you saw the stats then you know he only had 94 yards. Meet Braxton Kelley, a linebacker who had just entered the game. Kelley made the play, and for the third time in school history the Wildcats had defeated the nation’s best team. Andre Woodson did what he had to do to get the Wildcats back into the game despite trailing 27-14 at one point, and LSU failed to get Scott more touches on a day in which he was the hot back. But all is not lost for the Tigers, who find themselves in what could be a much better position that undefeated given the way this season has unfolded. And Kentucky has itself right back in the SEC East race. Like one fan’s sign said, “Billy (Gillispie) can wait”.
2. Clock management kills California.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley played very well for the Golden Bears in place of starter Nate Longshore, throwing for 294 yards and two touchdowns. But it was his decision to run the football instead of throw it away in the game’s final seconds that will be remembered for some time. Cal looked confused after the two-yard scramble, stuck between spiking the ball; and getting the kicking team onto the field to get the game to overtime. Oregon State 31, Cal 28…final. Truth be told, Riley did an admirable job of giving the Bears a shot at the tie, directing a touchdown drive to cut the Beavers lead to 31-28 with 2:31 remaining. While a national title could be out of reach at this point, the Rose Bowl is not. As for the Beavers, more consistent play from Sean Canfield could get this team headed in the right direction in the second half of the season. And looking at the Pac-10 right now, they may not be poised to win the league but they can definitely have a significant impact on the conference race.
3. Four teams blew leads of at least thirteen points this week: Akron, Rice, San Jose State and Stanford.
On Friday night, San Jose State had #16 Hawaii 35-21 in the fourth quarter…only to fall in overtime. Rice led Houston 48-35 after three quarters…and lost 56-48. Akron led Temple (Temple!) 20-3 after three quarters…and lost 24-20. And lastly, Stanford held a 31-17 lead over TCU…only to fall 38-36 on a touchdown run with 4:13 remaining. How does this happen? Well, I decided to take a look at each of the losing team’s rankings in two categories: rushing offense and time of possession. They rank as follows:
Akron: 95th; 103rd
Rice: 107th; 38th
San Jose State: 117th; 83rd
Stanford: 92nd; 35th
Now while I agree with the sentiment that time of possession is one of the most overrated stats in football, the fact that to this point in the season none of these teams have had much success running the football could be a reason for their demise on Saturday. Add to this the fact that these four have a combined record of 7-17, and you may understand a bit more why they blew these leads. Or maybe we should just give credit to the victors.
4. Speaking of the victors in those games, two of the best performances in the country were put in by Houston’s Donnie Avery and Anthony Alridge.
In Houston’s 56-48 win over inter-city rival Rice, thereby keeping possession of the Bayou Bucket, Avery had thirteen catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns, and Alridge put up 205 yards on twenty-four carries and four touchdowns. As a team, the Cougars amassed 748 yards of offense, all of which was needed to offset their five turnovers. And thanks to East Carolina knocking off UTEP Saturday night, the Cougars find themselves in a three-way tie atop the Conference USA West standings.
5. Oregon will find out just how deep they are in the next few weeks.
The Ducks’ 53-7 win over Washington State may have been a costly win, as wide receiver Cameron Colvin (broken ankle) and running back Jeremiah Johnson (knee injury) may both be lost for the season. Bad news, especially when you consider the fact that their next three games are: at Washington (this has been quite a bitter series of late, dating back to the Rick Neuheisel era), USC and Arizona State (both of these are at home). Oregon had already lost Brian Paysinger to a knee injury, so this will put even more pressure on Jaison Williams and the remaining Duck receivers. As for the running back situation, the two-headed monster may be no more, but Jonathan Stewart is one of the Pac-10’s best backs. Could this be the beginning of a nose dive similar to 2006? I don’t think so, but it will make things a little tougher.
6. They may not be impressive doing so, but Virginia just keeps winning football games.
Virginia is now on a six-game win streak, thanks to their 17-16 Homecoming win over previously unbeaten Connecticut. Of course, they had some help on UConn’s penultimate drive with two bad snaps (the last resulting in a turnover) sandwiched around an offsides penalty. But they got the job done and that’s all that matters. Until they get into the meat of their ACC schedule and teams find a way to exploit their inconsistent quarterback play. Cedric Peerman missed the game with a foot injury, but Andrew Pearman and Keith Payne can also run the ball. But, it’s the passing game that could be the difference between finishing in the middle of the ACC Coastal and challenging for the title. Jameel Sewell, due to his young corps of receivers, must be willing to use his experienced tight ends more. When he tries to force things down the field, bad things happen. First test: at Maryland next weekend.
7. Dennis Franchione (Texas A&M) and Bill Callahan (Nebraska) may be in serious trouble when it comes to job security.
Coach Fran has taken some heat for things on and off the field the last couple of weeks and Saturday’s 35-7 beating at the hands of Texas Tech surely won’t help sway public opinion in his favor. While the Aggies did run for 233 yards, Graham Harrell threw for 425 yards and three scores with only seven incompletions. A&M held the ball for more than 33 minutes but could only muster one touchdown…not good. This loss sets up a game that the Aggies must have against…Nebraska.
The Cornhusker defense looked worse than they did in Columbia last weekend, falling behind Oklahoma State 45-7 before scoring a window-dressing touchdown to make the final 45-14. In Nebraska’s worst home loss since 1958, fans left the stadium in disgust before the game was over, something unheard of in Lincoln. For all the talk about the West Coast offense Callahan was bringing to town, it’s the disappearance of the “Blackshirts” that could lead to his departure. Next week’s game in Lincoln should be an entertaining game to watch, and it may have very little to do with the game itself.
8. The frontrunner in the Big 12 North…Kansas?
Yes, it is indeed the Jayhawks after they pasted Baylor 58-10, making up for last year’s embarrassing loss in Waco. Kansas has improved leaps and bounds on the defensive end, something that has them at 6-0 for the first time since 1995. It may be too early to look ahead to that season-ending game in Kansas City against rival Missouri, especially with trips to Colorado and Texas A&M the next two weeks. But if they continue on this path, Kansas may wish that they had the Mizzou game at home in Lawrence instead of moving it to Kansas City (note: in 2008, it will be Missouri’s turn to give up the home game in this series).
9. My top five:
1. Ohio State: Buckeyes kept it rolling in their win over Kent State
2. South Florida: Bulls blow out UCF; trip to Rutgers on Thursday night
3. Boston College: trip to South Bend tougher than many thought; trip to Blacksburg on the 25th
4. Oklahoma: Sooners make claim as Big 12’s best in home win over Missouri
5. LSU: no time to dwell on heartbreaking loss at Kentucky as a hot Auburn team is next on the schedule