"Revenge Saturday" came and passed without any major surprises, although we were almost treated to one in Baton Rouge. LSU fell behind Troy 31-3 early in the third quarter, but luckily for them and the fans that remained in Tiger Stadium they woke up and pulled out the 40-31 victory. The strange thing about the Tigers' offensive struggles in the first half was that they were a result of poor play period, not the crippling Jarrett Lee interceptions that have killed them in big games. Troy put up a solid effort, but they ran out of gas in the end and couldn't muster much of a fight on offense in the fourth quarter when their tired defense needed a rest. Here are seven important happenings on Saturday.
1. Vanderbilt is bowl eligible!
Now, that sixth win doesn't guarantee the Commodores a bowl slot, but the fact that they've achieved this feat for the first time in twenty-six years is huge for Bobby Johnson's program. Chris Nickson played well in place of the injured Mackenzi Adams, but the real star for Vandy was defensive back D.J. Moore. In addition to two interceptions, Moore played some wide receiver and caught three passes for fifty one yards and two touchdowns in the 31-24 win at Kentucky. No longer is Vanderbilt a doormat that their eight SEC opponents can count on for a sure win every season, and no matter where they head for the holidays it's a safe bet that all involved will enjoy the experience.
2. They may not be undefeated, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a team playing better football than the Florida Gators.
The "March to Miami" ran over another victim today, with South Carolina falling 56-6 in The Swamp. Steve Spurrier, a hero at his alma mater thanks to his exploits as both a player and coach, took the worst loss of his coaching career in this one. And given the inept play of his quarterbacks, you have to wonder if he wasn't watching Tim Tebow and thinking of what the Gamecocks would be capable of with #15 under center. Florida has some explosive weapons on offense, but it's the way that they've played on defense and special teams since that loss to Ole Miss that has them three wins away from a national title game appearance if things break their way in the BCS standings. This team doesn't need anyone's help to take care of business. It's just too bad that South Carolina (three turnovers led to Florida's first twenty-one points) didn't let that message stick in their game week preparations.
3. Houston derails Tulsa's Conference USA title hopes...for the time being.
It shouldn't be a huge shock that the Cougars beat Tulsa at home tonight; it's the final score that should give people pause. When the carnage was complete, the scoreboard read: Houston 70, Tulsa 30. And that's not a typo either. Five Golden Hurricane turnovers combined with 641 yards of offense for the Cougars spelled disaster in Robertson Stadium for Todd Graham's team. Case Keenum threw six touchdown passes without an interception in the win, which leaves these two tied with Rice atop the West Division. The remaining schedules for the three are as follows: Houston hosts UTEP before closing out at Rice; Rice will have two home games with Marshall visiting next weekend; Tulsa may have the easiest road with Tulane at home followed by a trip to Marshall. Expect the Golden Hurricane to root hard for Rice should they all take care of business leading into that game.
4. Boston College wins at Florida State and controls their own destiny in the ACC Atlantic.
The Eagles did two things well in their 27-17 win: they ran the ball effectively (176 yards as a team) and kept the Seminoles from doing so (73 yards; leading rusher was kicker Graham Gano with 24 yards). Say what you want about the fact that Florida State was missing five wide receivers due to suspension but you also need to acknowledge two key points before leaning on that "reason": Jimbo Fisher would much rather run the ball with an inexperienced QB in Christian Ponder; and those suspended players put themselves in that position, not Boston College. And a bit of bad news for the rest of the ACC: running backs Josh Haden and Montel Harris (121 yards and a score on the ground) are both true freshmen, so they'll be around for a little while longer. And with Wake Forest (who lost at NC State) and Maryland (winners over North Carolina) left on the schedule, head coach Jeff Jagodzinski's team has a clear path to Tampa: win those two games and they're in.
5. Oregon State continues to defy the critics and remains in the driver's seat in the Pac-10.
USC looked pretty good in the second half of their win at Stanford tonight, but all the 45-23 win did was keep them tied with Oregon State atop the Pac-10 standings. OSU took care of business in a 34-21 win over California in Corvallis, the first time in the last six meetings of the series that the home team won. The brothers Rodgers (James and Jacquizz) took good care of the Golden Bears, combining for three touchdowns in the victory. But another key in this one was the play of the Beaver defense, which held Cal to 235 yards total offense and 2-13 on third downs. Mike Riley's got a dangerous team at his fingertips, but they still have work to do with a trip to Tucson coming before the "Civil War" against Oregon on the 29th. But for all those giggling about a possible rematch with Penn State should that come to fruition, recognize this: these Beavers are nothing like the group that was blown out in Happy Valley in September.
6. Minnesota once again shoots themselves in the foot in losing to Wisconsin.
The Golden Gophers' recent failures in the battle for Paul Bunyan's axe has to bring up the question of the "better" way in which to lose: get blown out or fall just short? The 35-32 loss in Madison must be especially painful for Tim Brewster's team because of the fact that they went into the locker room at halftime in control of the game. Up 21-7 and making plays on offense, Minnesota looked to be in good shape. But then they began to kill themselves with turnovers and lapses in execution that turned a two-touchdown lead into an eleven-point hole with just under seven minutes left in the game. They did score a touchdown to get to the final margin, but it was hard to see them completing the comeback. The good news is that next year's game will be at home (in their new stadium, in fact), but given their recent losses to the Badgers does it really matter where the game is played?
7. The nosedive is just about complete at USF.
Give credit to Rutgers for their play in a 49-16 victory, but what has happened to the Bulls? For the second consecutive season, you have to wonder about how this team deals with adversity. USF has lost four of their last five games and even though they've already reached six wins, they could end up staying home come bowl season with remaining games against Connecticut and West Virginia. They lacked balance in this one (just seventy-six yards rushing) and added to that a lack in discipline that showed up in both their lack of execution (six turnovers) and penalties (10 for 100 yards). You just can't do that and expect to win.
They've known for some time that they won't win the Big East this season, which is a disappointment. But if I'm head coach Jim Leavitt I address this team on how they'd like to finish this season, and how much pride they take in putting on that USF jersey. Unlike storied programs that are building upon the tradition established before them, these guys are the foundation that future Bulls will learn about. How they want to be remembered is up to them at this point.
Offensive Player of the Week: Houston QB Case Keenum. Keenum's numbers: 24-37 for 402 yards and six touchdowns; four rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown. Houston beat #23 Tulsa 70-30 to move into a three-way tie for first place in Conference USA's West Division.