On a day when darn near everything we thought we knew went out the window, one prevailing thought was right on the money: Cal-Oregon was the game of the day, and it lived up to all the hype.
After a strangely defensive first half, the scoreboard got the workout everyone assumed it would see starting in the third quarter. No one ever led by more than seven points, and the issue was in doubt until a game-defining play with 22 seconds left on the clock. Dennis Dixon had driven Oregon inside the Cal five-yard-line, and, primed to score the tying touchdown, the senior quarterback hit Cameron Colvin on an out pattern at the two. But with no timeouts, Colvin made every effort possible to stretch the ball over the goal-line—and the ball came loose, falling into and out of the end zone for a game-ending touchback.
Cal's defense frustrated Dixon, and forced him to throw his first two picks of the year, while the Bears' offense came alive with 21 points in the fourth quarter. With the winner set to vault itself into the very heart of the national title discussion, Nate Longshore and Cal got it done, thanks in large part to a previously underutilized DeSean Jackson. Having found the end zone just once this year before Saturday (that being on a punt return), Jackson caught two Longshore passes for TDs in Eugene, and his big-play ability was the difference.
Runner-up: Maryland 34, Rutgers 24
13. Worst loss of the day, part one: Colorado 27, Oklahoma 24
Unlike one stubborn Big Ten coach who hasn't changed his gameplan since the Ford administration, we're willing to adapt to the situation at hand. Like on Saturday, when there really wasn't a "least impressive" win for a ranked team.
LSU, Boston College, and Virginia Tech proceeded to sleepwalk through their early starts—but as for the rest of the Top 25, most of the heavyweights didn't win unimpressively—they just flat-out lost instead.
Perhaps no loss on Saturday was worse than Oklahoma's, considering, among many factors: 1) Colorado isn't very good; 2) the Sooners led by 17 points late in the third quarter; and 3) Colorado really isn't very good.
Sure, the Buffaloes have a nice defense—but their offense shouldn't be gashing Oklahoma regardless of how much time the Sooners' D spent on the field in the second half. Sam Bradford didn't look good for the first time, but he didn't have much help either. Where was receiver Malcolm Kelly? Only one Oklahoma wideout had more than one catch, and Kelly had none.
For an offense that looked like it could put up 40 on the Steel Curtain in the first four weeks, this was a major disappointment. Of all the upsets Saturday, this was the most jarring result, considering that the Sooners had shown essentially no weaknesses, and the lone potential question mark (the pass D) was one area one would never think Colorado could exploit.
12. Worst loss of the day, part two: Auburn 20, Florida 17
Seems like yesterday this just happened, doesn't it? But there were no refs to blame for this Gator loss—Auburn just out-played Florida in a place and at a time of day when no one was supposed to be able to top the mighty Chompers.
Florida's reliance on Tim Tebow as its only running threat finally caught up with them—which is amazing considering that they managed to survive all of last year just fine with the same situation. But now that Tebow is the every-down quarterback in addition to the team's best running threat, it's becoming too much to handle.
While it's too much of a stretch to suggest that Florida is easy to defend, they're certainly getting more and more predictable; most teams just can't stop them from doing what they know is coming. When your starting running back has three carries for seven yards, you might need to address something. Tebow is great, don't get me wrong—but he's not superhuman.
On the other side of the ball, the defense isn't the shutdown unit it was last season. Brandon Cox was benched two weeks ago following the Tigers' apocalyptic loss at home to Mississippi State. Now he's coming into Gainesville and conjuring up images of Jay Cutler?
Urban Meyer needs to figure some sort of running game out, though. It's great to have a multi-talented quarterback who's more versatile than a Romanian gymnast, but find something else to make the defense worry about in the backfield.
11. Worst loss of the day, part three: Kansas State 41, Texas 21
Regardless of Auburn's head-to-head win over Kansas State, given the train wreck the Tigers had become meant the Wildcats were the opponent a top 10 team had to fear the most coming into Saturday. But Texas should have had plenty of reason to come out with their guns blazin'—they lost in Manhattan to K-State just last year.
Instead, Colt McCoy came out and threw four passes to white jerseys—too bad the ‘Horns were wearing their burnt orange threads. The ‘Cats scored on offense (twice), defense (once), and special teams (twice)—and despite having more total yards, make no mistake: Texas was never in this game.
At least Oklahoma and Florida left the field with the solace, however miniscule, that they were in their games until the final seconds and left it all on the field. The ‘Horns were cooked by the end of the third quarter. But whereas the Sooners and Gators had shown very few, if any, flaws, Texas looked like it was ripe for the pickin' since the first week of the season. The schedule gets light after next week's tilt with Oklahoma, so if somehow the ‘Horns survive in Dallas, they'll still have a chance to make some noise—but Mack Brown's boys look bad right now.
Runner-up: Maryland 34, Rutgers 24 (the Susan Lucci Game of the Week)
10. Best/craziest game of the weekend: South Florida 21, West Virginia 13
Cal-Oregon was the best game Saturday, but we already covered that one, so now let's look to the turnover-fest that was the Big East's Friday night battle.
What did we learn from a game that featured 10 turnovers? South Florida is pretty darn good.
Yes, Matt Grothe threw two picks. And yes, the Bulls lost two fumbles. But we didn't tune in to see South Florida play offense.
The Bulls have the best defense in the state of Florida—better than the Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes, and quite possibly the Dolphins. Ben Moffitt was all over the field, picking two (almost three) passes off, and taking one to the house for the first score of the game.
George Selvie was in Pat White's (and later Jarrett Brown's) face all night. The cynic would point to the fact that White missed the second half with an injury as to why WVU lost—but Brown really wasn't that bad, and gave the Mountaineers at least as good of a chance as they'd have had with a healthy White. Given the way the rest of the weekend worked out (most notably Auburn's big win over Florida), we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that South Florida has the best pair of wins (WVU/at Auburn) in the country—and it's time to start taking them seriously in the national title picture.
Improbable? Definitely. But they will likely rise from 18 to six in the polls, and who'd have even thought they'd win the Big East before Friday night?
Louisville and Cincinnati come to Tampa, leaving Rutgers as the only real road test left on the Bulls' schedule. This defense will keep them in every game—if Grothe and his offense can make a few plays, odds are every one of those games will be a W.
Runner-up: Wisconsin 37, Michigan State 34
9. Who beat Temple this week?
Say this for the Owls—they get their losses out of the way early.
With the exception of their season opener—a Friday loss to Navy—Temple had put its legion of fans (all 12 of them) out of their misery by 3:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, leaving plenty of time for those fine folks to do something more constructive with their weekend—hopefully questioning why they're Temple fans to begin with...
On this fine fall afternoon, the Owls traded touchdowns with Army, going into halftime tied at 21 for the second consecutive week. Reality then kicked in, as Jeremy Trimble took a punt back 85 yards in the third quarter and another loss was in the books.
But have faith Temple fans! A truly terrible Northern Illinois team visits Philadelphia next Saturday, and given the 1 p.m. start time (practically under the lights considering the circumstances), the futility may come to a screeching, temporary halt.
Florida International, we've got a banquet room for 85 reserved for you should that happen.
8. Who beat Notre Dame this week?
Purdue drew the enviable assignment of pounding Charlie Weis' team into submission this week, taking a 23-0 lead into halftime before putting it in neutral and shamefully allowing the Irish to score three offensive touchdowns—an output that hasn't been equaled since Knute Rockne roamed the sidelines in South Bend (or something like that).
On a Saturday where you could make the argument that many teams were looking ahead to next week's Armageddon slate, Purdue was as guilty as anyone (the Boilers welcome Ohio State to West Lafayette next weekend), and as a result, you almost forgot that Notre Dame is the worst BCS conference team in the country. A 23-0 halftime lead on Cheesy Charlie's boys simply isn't good enough—giving up points in the second half is a downright disgrace. Shame on you, Purdue. Notre Dame's streak of donuts in the win column will continue next week at UCLA, by at least 21 points or your money back.
7. On the rise: Illinois, Maryland, Kansas State
I'd like to congratulate Maryland for being the first, and quite possibly last, team to appear on the "on the decline" list one week, only to find their way to the "on the rise" list the next. After blowing a 24-3 lead and falling to Wake Forest in OT, it seemed safe to write off the Terps for a while, especially considering a trip to Rutgers was next. But Maryland helped expose the Scarlet Knights for the frauds they are, and can get itself back into the ACC Atlantic race starting next week against Georgia Tech.
6. On the decline: Clemson, Rutgers, Alabama
Alabama may be one of the more puzzling teams to figure out from week-to-week this season, but Clemson gets the booby prize here for figuring out a way to help handcuff one of the more talented offenses in the country—their own.
5. Which conference embarrassed itself the most this weekend?
The Big 12 gets the honor this week. Yes, spare me, I know that when your top teams lose it just proves the "depth" of your conference, blah, blah, blah. And Paris Hilton appearing on Letterman proves she's literate.
Look, I'm not in the Oklahoma or Texas locker rooms, or at their practices, so I don't know how much look-aheaditis affected the Sooners or Longhorns on Saturday. But blowing a 17-point lead and losing by 20 at home aren't things alleged national title contenders should be doing.
Yeah, the middle of the Big 12 has a lot of parity, but the bottom feeders are still terrible (here's to you, Iowa State and Baylor), and the top obviously isn't what we thought. The Big 12 is turning into the old Pac-10—a conference where offense is ruling the day and defense is becoming more of an afterthought—right before our very eyes.
The Big East didn't do itself any favors either. South Florida was impressive, but Rutgers losing left Cincinnati as the only potential opponent that could be undefeated when they meet the Bulls. UConn is 5-0 with impressive victories over your mother, grandmother, aunt, niece and three-legged schnauzer, but could conceivably lose its last seven and still miss a bowl. Pitt and Syracuse are terrible and Rutgers and Louisville were severely overrated. The Big East, despite Louisville's struggles, had done pretty well for itself coming into the weekend—but Rutgers' loss was very damaging to its long-term image.
4. Which conference made itself proud?
To paraphrase Denny Green, the Pac-10 "is who we thought they were!" USC won more convincingly than the scoreboard would have you believe, Oregon and Cal staged a well-played classic, Arizona State continued to roll, UCLA is rebounding well, and Arizona and Oregon State can at least be described as "feisty."
Washington seems a play away from a breakout win every week. So while we're still being surprised (mostly unpleasantly) by every other BCS conference each week, the Pac-10 is the one league that seems to have established some sort of legitimate pecking order. And if USC loses at home next week to Stanford, this paragraph will disappear and I'll deny its existence forever.
3. Looking way, way too far into the future considering by this time next week Boston College may be a legitimate national title contender...
It's not over for Oklahoma and Florida.
Let's face it—outside of USC and LSU, there are no certainties in college football, and those two teams (particularly USC) will recieve more than their share of tests before season's end. Florida will be right back in the title mix if it goes into LSU and wins next week, and the same could be said for Oklahoma—even if a win over Texas isn't all that impressive right now.
Ohio State has to be considered a major threat, but let's at last see how their trip to Purdue turns out before we start giving them anywhere near the credit of the top two. The Pac-10 is too much of a bear trap right now to assume USC and Cal will be undefeated when they meet six weeks from now.
Wisconsin is going to lose by about 24 points at any time. The aforementioned BC Eagles may be ranked as high as sixth in some polls next week. Same goes for Kentucky...the football team! Hawaii might crack some top 10s as well.
The lesson we learned this weekend was simple: it's September, so chill out.
If Florida beats LSU next week, they'll be back in the top 5 faster than you can spell Houshmandzadeh. I wouldn't even throw dirt on Oregon's national title hopes yet. Beat USC and Arizona State, have Cal drop a few and who knows what else might play out.
The match-ups that everyone was anticipating so much next week are still damn good, and those will tell us what we can confirm as truth based on this weekend, and what we can throw out the window with Sean McDonough's sense of humor. Speaking of those games...
2. Top five games to watch next weekend, plus three more because I felt like it:
Kentucky at South Carolina, Oklahoma vs. Texas, Cincinnati at Rutgers, Nebraska at Missouri, Ohio State at Purdue, Wisconsin at Illinois, Georgia at Tennessee, Florida at LSU.
1. Top 10 teams through 9/29:
4. Ohio State
5. South Florida
8. Boston College