There were a pair of hyped showdowns on the schedule this weekend, but only the noon matinee between Texas and Oklahoma lived up to the hype. Florida blew out LSU, and by the end of Oklahoma State's win at Missouri the only team in the top four of the polls to survive was Alabama. They were off this weekend. So now the question to be answered Sunday afternoon is a rather complicated one: who's number one? Here are seven key happenings on this topsy-turvy Satruday.
1) Texas comes from behind to knock off top-ranked Oklahoma 45-35.
In the recent history of the Red River Rivalry, turnovers go a long way in determining the winner of the game. Texas won the battle, not turning the ball over at all while picking off Sam Bradford twice. But has there been an instance in the recent history of this game that an injury has been the difference. The Longhorns went into this game thinking that they could take advantage of the Sooner defense in the middle of the field, but things got a whole lot easier in accomplishing that when Oklahoma MLB Ryan Reynolds went down with a knee injury (Reynolds is now out for the remainder of the year).
From that point in the third quarter on, offensive coordinator Greg Davis and QB Colt McCoy were able to hit some big plays via the air, and eventually the ground in the fourth quarter. Another trend in this rivalry is the importance of running the football with some success. Was anyone else watching the Longhorns fail time after time to run to the outside in the first half and wondering why they keep on trying that same play? Eventually they figured out how to attack the Sooner front seven (north-south, not east-west) and Chris Ogbonnaya ripped off a couple of big runs, the last of which led to the touchdown that sealed the game.
Texas now goes on to host a Missouri team that shouldn't be in a good mood following their home loss to Oklahoma State tonight. As for the Sooners, they host Kansas, and recent history shows that just because you lose this game doesn't mean that you're out of the Big 12 South race. And given the strength of that division (Texas Tech can score with anyone), that definitely stands for this season.
2) Florida blows out LSU in "The Swamp"...twice.
This one got out of hand quick, with two Tim Tebow to Percy Harvin completions resulting in a 7-0 Gator lead on the game's first possession. Florida eventually ran out to a 20-0 lead before an LSU touchdown closed the gap to thriteen at the half. The Bayou Bengals scored another touchdown to start the second half, and there was the feeling that this game would live up to the hype after all. But thanks to four of the fastest men in all of college football (Harvin, Brandon James, Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey) and a defense that took away LSU's ability to run the football (80 yards rushing; forcing two inexperienced quarterbacks to win the game through the air), Florida ran off twenty-one consecutive points to essentially put the game away.
Thanks to the recent "discovery" of Demps and Rainey (I mean to say, Coach Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen decided to go with the smaller backs to see if that would kickstart the running game), Florida may be the favorite right now to win the SEC. They can spread you out and put your defenders on an island, and their athletes would be favored in a majority of those situations regardless of the opponent. The only thing is: after an impressive performance like tonight's, how much more does that loss to Ole Miss hurt?
And of course the man who had a bit to say about Tim Tebow, Ricky Jean-Francois, missed the game with a groin injury.
3) Two sets of Tigers are in search of something to keep their seasons from dissolving into something ugly.
This actually began on Thursday night, when Clemson fell at Wake Forest 12-7. Yes, C.J. Spiller was unable to return for the second half due to an injury, but is that really an excuse for their offensive performance? James Davis ran for just twenty-five yards on twelve carries, and QB Cullen Harper was 15-for-35 on the night. 198 yards of total offense and just over 24 minutes of possession for an offense that was supposed to be the best in the ACC when the season began? Terrible. The first move towards salvaging the season was made by Tommy Bowden, benching Harper in favor of Willy Korn. But you really have to wonder if such a move won't make much of a difference for these Tigers, for they haven't played very well at all this season.
But for Clemson's offensive troubles of late, at least they're not Auburn. The game week leading up to Arkansas began with the firing of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and a pledge to go back to playing "Auburn football". 193 yards of offense and three turnovers later (56 yards rushing on thirty-three carries? Poor.), Auburn picked up their third SEC loss. The Tigers had the ball for just under twenty-five minutes, so you could point to that in addition to some shoddy tackling helped Arkansas RB Michale Smith rush for a career-high 176 yards. Now, if you're head coach Tommy Tuberville you're going to have your hands full keeping the morale of the team (especially the defense) in check for the remainder of the season. Outgained 416-193? It's a credit to the defense that they even had a chance to win the 25-22 ballgame.
4) Vanderbilt goes on the road and gets knocked off by Mississippi State.
For as bad as Mississippi State has been on offense this season, they'd have a hard time matching the numbers put up by the thirteenth-ranked Commodores in defeat today. Vandy racked up an astonishing 107 yards of total offense, some of which can be blamed on the health of QB Chris Nickson. But Mackenzi Adams is also a capable option under center, so you have to wonder what besides the play of the Bulldog defense went wrong for Vanderbilt. Two turnovers, ten penalties, seven first downs, 1-10 on third down and allowing State to possess the ball for more than thirty-six minutes is a good way to get beat on the road. But to be fair, other than Mississippi State RB Andre Dixon (107 yards rushing) no one was that impressive on offense.
Now some skeptics will be circling around Nashville, expecting the Commodores to fold up the tent and become the team people assume every year to be the doormat of the SEC. Just as much as the comeback win over Auburn last week, how they deal with this adversity will display whether or not this program has changed. I, for one, don't expect them to fold.
5) Nebraska nearly makes up for a porous defense but fails to upset #7 Texas Tech.
Despite holding onto the ball for more than forty minutes and outgaining Texas Tech by fifty yards, the Cornhuskers couldn't pull out the upset in Lubbock, falling 37-31 in overtime. At first glance one would assume that the Huskers stayed in the game by keeping the football on the ground. Not this team, as QB Joe Ganz worked the ball underneath to his backs and receivers to the tune of 349 yards and two touchdowns on the day. In fact, Texas Tech outrushed the Huskers 137-114.
But despite being on the field for just 19:48 of the game, the Nebraska defense couldn't keep the Red Raiders out of the end zone, with the most egregious error being the fourth-and-4 play in which Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree was left wide open. The offense seems to be fine in Lincoln, although they could use more production from the I-back position on the ground. As for Bo Pelini's defense? He's got a lot more work to get done than many had hoped when he was hired.
6) Maybe, just maybe, Oklahoma State is for real.
Not much had been said about Mike Gundy's 17th-ranked Cowboys despite their 5-0 record heading into Columbia to take on #3 Missouri. That's due in large part to a soft non-conference schedule to begin the year (I don't think they thought that Washington State would be that bad) and a defense that many were still skeptical about after a poor 2007. But thanks to three interceptions of Chase Daniel and one of the nation's most balanced offenses, the Cowboys overcame three turnovers of their own to win 28-23. While much isn't expected from Missouri's running game (somewhat cheapening the OSU defense holding them to 64 yards on the ground), to limit the Tigers to 2-9 on third down is quite impressive.
As for the offense, Zac Robinson tends to get lost in the shuffle when people discuss the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. It's time to at the least give him some mention due to his play this season. 19-28 with two more touchdowns on the night, and another threat at wide receiver emerged in the form of Damian Davis. Davis, who caught both touchdown passes thrown by Robinson, stepped up for the highly-touted Dez Bryant, who wasn't heard from much after a hard hit in the first half. And RB Kendall Hunter ran for 154 yards on twenty-four carries and a score, leading a capable corps of running backs. Can the Cowboys win the Big 12 South? I don't think so, but don't be surprised if they take some out and cause them a shot at the division.
7) One last question: who should be #1 on Sunday?
After today's games you can make a serious case for both Texas (considering who they beat) and Penn State (considering how they beat Wisconsin on the road). But should Alabama really be punished two weeks later for an underwhelming performance against Kentucky? The Crimson Tide did win the game, but if past precedent this season has anything to do with it the Longhorns will lead at least one of the two major polls.
Alabama vaulted up the polls in quick fashion after their neutral site win over then-#9 Clemson, showing that pollsters give credit to teams who beat top competition on the road or in a neutral setting. Would it be fair for Alabama to get jumped by a team three spots behind them when they didn't lose? No, but life isn't always fair. It's only October anyway, so the polls should be taken with a grain of salt.
Offensive Performance of the Day: Tulane RB Andre Anderson. In the Green Wave's 24-21 loss at UTEP, Anderson ran for 255 yards and two scores on twenty-nine carries. He also had four receptions for thirty yards and another touchdown.