College Football: Weekend Touchdowns
While there's finally some clarity in the ACC, the Big 12 South is as muddled as ever with a three-way tie for the top spot. Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all end their regular season with 7-1 league records, and which one will represent the division in the Big 12 Championship Game next week won't be known until the updated BCS standings come out tomorrow. Texas had the lead in the fifth tiebreaker (BCS standings) when determining how to break a three-way tie, but how impressive the computers and Harris Poll voters find Oklahoma's 61-41 win at #12 Oklahoma State will judge whether or not they can make up that .008 difference.
Texas Tech, which escaped a tough Baylor team at home, will most likely sit this one out due to the beating they suffered in Norman last week. Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field, but the Sooners are one of the nation's hottest teams with four straight games of at least sixty points. Oklahoma's case will also be helped by early-season wins over Cincinnati (BCS representative out of the Big East) and TCU (ranked in the Top 20 of the BCS). The winner of this beauty pageant gets a Missouri team that lost a tough one to rival Kansas in the game's final minute in Kansas City. Here are the key happenings on the regular season's penultimate weekend.
1. Charlie Weis may be in serious trouble at Notre Dame.
It wasn't good for Notre Dame this week that the focus heading into their trip to USC was head coach Charlie Weis' job status instead of their chances to knock off the Torjans. Add to that backdrop an embarassing 38-3 loss in which the Irish didn't pick up a first down until the final play of the third quarter and you have to wonder if this is indeed the beginning of the end for Weis. Tyrone Willingham was fired after just three seasons for not being successful enough on Saturdays; fifteen losses in two seasons (the most for a two-year stretch in Notre Dame history) doesn't leave much for interpretation when it comes to "success". The issue here regards the potential money owed to Coach Weis should Notre Dame pull the trigger, which has been reported to be a rather substantial amount due to the extension given to him two seasons ago. We'll have to wait and see how this all plays out, but this much is certain: this isn't the Notre Dame that most of us grew up watching every weekend.
2. Georgia Tech explodes in the third quarter to end their seven-game losing streak to Georgia.
The first thirty minutes went the way that many had come to expect in this Peach State rivalry. But the third quarter belonged to the Yellow Jackets, and Paul Johnson's team was pretty dominant in that stanza at that. Tech ran for 201 yards in the third quarter thanks in large part to backs Jonathan Dwyer (who broke a 60-yard touchdown run on the first play of the quarter) and Roddy Jones, while Georgia ran for just one yard. A game that was 28-12 Georgia at the half was turned upside down, with the Jackets finishing the quarter with a 35-28 lead. The Bulldogs helped out with their poor tackling and lack of gap discipline, but give the credit to a team that refused to accept anything less that a win.
They could have come out onto the field with the attitude of "here we go again", but Coach Johnson and his staff did a masterful job of keeping this team focused on the task at hand. Now 9-3 on the season, look for Georgia Tech to get even better heading into their bowl game and 2009 as they become even more comfortable with the option attack. For the naysayers who thought that the option couldn't work in a BCS conference, you have proof to the contrary.
3. Oregon also took to the ground in denying Oregon State a Rose Bowl berth.
Not having Jacquizz Rodgers definitely hurt the Beavers heading into this game. But the freshman running back doesn't play defense, and that's the side of the football where things fell apart on Saturday. The Ducks racked up nearly 700 yards of offense on the afternoon, and when you add to this two defensive touchdowns the end result was a 65-38 beating in Corvallis. Backs Jeremiah Johnson (219 yards) and LaGarrette Blount (112 yards) did the majority of the damage on the ground while Jeremiah Masoli threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns in just seventeen attempts. Four turnovers (-4 margin) and just eighty-nine yards on the ground will most certainly get you beat, and that's exactly what happened to the Beavers. Both teams become UCLA fans next week, with USC poised to win the conference outright with a victory next week. The Rose Bowl drought will live for another year at Oregon State.
4. Boston College and Virginia Tech take care of business to set up a rematch for the ACC title.
The Eagles couldn't win the conference title game last season with Matt Ryan under center; this year they get another shot with freshman Dominique Davis running the show. But when you've got a defense as good at theirs (the Eagles have scored a non-offensive TD in seven straight games), all the quarterback has to do is manage the game and look for help from backs Montel Harris and Josh Haden. That's essentially the same formula that Virginia Tech has used to earn the opportunity to defend their ACC crown, and it was more of the same in their 17-14 home win over rival Virginia. QB Tyrod Taylor accounted for 274 yards of offense and a touchdown pass in the win, with the Hokies rushing for more than 200 yards on the day.
In Chestnut Hill, the Eagles may have given up 360 yards through the air, but they held Maryland to -6 yards rushing and forced two key turnovers in their 28-21 victory. Neither team has the explosive ability that makes viewers drool, but the way in which they've played to get to the ACC Championship Game has been quite effective. Don't expect too many points on the scoreboard in Tampa next week, but that's the way that both teams would like the game to play out.
5. Cincinnati completes the transformation from Big East cellar dweller to outright champion.
The BCS berth had been decided well before kickoff, with Pittsburgh beating West Virginia on Friday afternoon. But this game was all about the seniors on this team, players who went from middle of the pack in Conference USA to the bottom of the Big East, realizing the vision that they'd watched other teams experience in recent years. A 30-10 win over Syracuse gave the Bearcats their first conference championship since the sixties when they played in the Missouri Valley Conference, and they'll most likely be on their way to the FedEx Orange Bowl. Brian Kelly has pulled this one off in just over two years at the school thanks to a stout defense, prolific receiving corps and some flatout tough football players. Chief among them QB Tony Pike, who broke his arm earlier in the season and has led the way since that disappointing blowout loss at Connecticut. The Bearcats have won ten games in consecutive seasons and could finish with twelve when it's all said and done (at Hawaii next week; bowl game). No wonder Coach Kelly's name has been thrown around for a number of high-profile job openings.
6. Alabama and Florida dominate rivalry games to set up a showdown for the SEC title.
There was little doubt in either of their decisive wins, with the Tide shutting out Auburn 36-0 while Florida beat Florida State 45-15 despite playing parts of the game in a downpour. The only bad news was the ankle injury suffered by Gator Percy Harvin, and his status for next week's game in the Georgia Dome isn't known at this time. But you can expect an explosive affair between teams who get the job done in different ways. Alabama will look to win the battle in the trenches, relying on their running game to control the clock and go downfield through the air on occasion. Florida will have the advantage in the speed department, especially inside on artificial turf. But be careful not to pigeonhole these teams for you need versatility to get to this point in the season with a shot at a national title. The Gators are plenty tough up front on both sides of the ball, and the Crimson Tide have some speedsters of their own. This much is certain, however: it would be a big mistake to miss this game.
7. Don't be so quick to rule Boise State out of a BCS at-large berth.
The Broncos completed an undefeated regular season with a 61-10 win over Fresno State on Friday, a game that got out of hand in the second half. They got some help with Oregon State's loss, which could potentially open up two berths should USC take care of UCLA next week. Conventional wisdom had the Trojans in the BCS had Oregon State snagged the Rose Bowl berth, leaving one spot up for grabs between (most likely) Boise State and Ohio State. And with bowl selections being just as much about beauty contests as they are merit (maybe even more this year with the weak economy), there was a strong possibility that Chris Peterson's team would have been left out for a team with two losses. Now they turn into UCLA fans, and they should definitely be on any BCS bowl's short list next Sunday. As a matter of fact, they should be in the BCS period. They've certainly earned it, and look for their numbers to get a boost with Oregon's big win (BSU won at Oregon back in September).
Offensive Performance of the Day: Rice TE James Casey. Casey pretty much did it all for the Owls in their 56-42 win over Houston. 12 receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns, with five total touchdowns (he ran and threw one as well) on the day to help keep the rival Cougars out of the Conference USA Championship Game. Tulsa, who hosts ECU next week, sends their thanks to Mr. Casey.