College FB Week 8: 14 Thoughts from 14 Hours

Brett HustonContributor IOctober 23, 2007

Not to oversimplify this win, but it was a tale of quarters for the Ducks in Seattle.

They owned the start of the game, and they owned the finish. In between, there were a few anxious moments, most notably the two big Jake Locker pass plays that tied the game, twice, in the third quarter.

But in this season of unpredictability, a team gets major points in my book when it gets out to a commanding lead, unwisely lets their foot off the gas to a degree, and then goes full throttle to slam the door shut.

Sure, it'd be better to never let the other team find its way back into the picture, but a game like this can be very beneficial down the road in a game against a better opponent.

Oregon's defense had its lapses in the second and third quarters, but the Ducks' running attack never let up, gashing the Huskies for 467 yards on the ground. Jonathan Stewart had a career-high 251 yards, but Andre Crenshaw had 113 of his own and quarterback Dennis Dixon scooted free for 99 yards and a score.

This Oregon team looks like a higher-powered version of Texas from two years ago, right down to their bread-and-butter offensive play—the option read that Dixon has perfected in his senior season.

The Ducks' defense is an average Pac-10 unit, and may eventually be the team's undoing. But one must remember that turnovers, not poor defense, plagued Oregon in its lone loss, to Cal.

We'll find out exactly how good this team is the next two weeks against USC and Arizona State...but they get both teams in Autzen Stadium. And considering those two  games are on the horizon makes this win impressive.

Yes, Washington is struggling right now, but thought-to-be invincible Pac-10 teams have gone down to much less than this (Cal, USC, are you listening?) This is perhaps the best offense in the country, and the defense is good enough to allow 24-28 points most weeks and just get out of the way, making way for Dixon and his Quack Attack.

Runner-up: Florida 45, Kentucky 37

13. Least impressive win of the day: Oklahoma 17, Iowa State 7

It's hard to be too tough on the Sooners because it's a conference road win, and particularly during this season, those can't be taken lightly.

But there are a few BCS conference teams that no aspiring national championship contender should have trouble with at home, on the road, or on Jupiter: Baylor, Minnesota, Duke, and yes, Iowa State.

The Cyclones actually led this game well into the third quarter before the Sooners started to assert themselves on the ground. A Chris Brown run tied the score in the third and another gave Oklahoma the lead early in the fourth. But Iowa State drove down the field with just over seven minutes to play, and nearly tied the score before Bret Meyer threw a shaky pass into the end zone that was picked off.

Oklahoma seems to be fine as long as it's in the friendly confines of Norman. Their win against Missouri last week looks even better after the Tigers' complete undressing of Texas Tech.

After a bye week, the Sooners have three of their last four at home, and the one road trip is a jaunt down to Lubbock, which, as mentioned above, looks a bit less intimidating right about now.

But this was supposed to be the trendy one-loss pick to have a pretty clear path to the national championship game based on the upsets that have been taking place across the country, and they've looked shaky through major stretches in their last four games.

The secondary, in particular, looks rather vulnerable right now, and you know Missouri is licking its chops for another shot at that unit in the Big 12 Championship Game on neutral turf.

Runner-up: Texas 31, Baylor 10 (the Bears hung around for a loooong while)

12. Worst loss of the day: Vanderbilt 17, South Carolina 6

Steve Spurrier's team isn't exactly built to come from behind, and Vandy was up 17-0 in Columbia before you could spell Ryan Succop.

So despite being left with the shocking fate of losing a home game to Vanderbilt, how they lost wasn't particularly stunning.

And it's not like the Commodores are the doormats they've so often been over the years. They hung around with Alabama for a while, beat Ole Miss soundly, and should have beaten Georgia a week ago. Jay Cutler's not under center, but this isn't exactly Minnesota either.

That being said, being knocked out of the national championship picture because of a home loss to Vanderbilt is a real tough pill to swallow. Spurrier's team can still control its own destiny in the wacky, wild SEC East, but things get a bit dicey from here. Trips to Arkansas and Tennessee loom, each with far more firepower than the ‘Dores, and their SEC finale brings big, bad, suddenly-bulletproof-again Florida to town.

Throw in a quarterback situation where neither Blake Mitchell nor Chris Smelley seems to want to claim the job (the duo combined for three picks in the Vandy loss), and Spurrier's first BCS trip as a Gamecock may have to wait a while.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is two wins from being bowl eligible.

Runner-up: UCLA 30, Cal 21

11. Best game of the day: LSU 30, Auburn 24

We might as well just pencil in LSU and whomever their opponent is for this honor every week from here on out.

The Bayou Bengals were involved in their third-straight heart-stopper, and thanks to one of the craziest finishes in recent memory, the Tigers survived their lethal stretch with two wins.

Down 17-7 at half, LSU came out and dominated the third quarter and first half of the fourth to grab a 23-17 lead over Auburn, and Tommy Tuberville's boys had been anemic at best with the ball in the second half up to that point. But with eight minutes remaining, Auburn got the ball on its own 18 and went 82 yards in four-and-a-half minutes to take a one-point lead.

That's where it started to get interesting.

Auburn, fearful of a big play from LSU's speedy kick returners, had been squibbing the ball on its kickoffs most of the night. They continued with that strategy after their go-ahead score, but terrible execution gave LSU the ball at its own 42, needing only 30 or so yards to get into field goal range.

After picking up a first down on their initial play, LSU quarterback Matt Flynn ran the ball for six yards and threw an incompletion, leaving his team with a third-and-four from the Auburn 42. Tailback Richard Murphy took an option pitch from Flynn on the critical third down and was upended at least a yard short of the sticks, but inexplicably, the SEC crew spotted the ball past the marker.

Given a measurement was still made and the incredibly obvious nature of the mistake, there was ample time to review the spot of the ball (which is very reviewable by the rules), yet nothing ever happened, and play continued with LSU given a cheap first down.

We won't even bring up the illegal formation flag that was thrown on the touchdown that put LSU up 20-17 and was, for some unknown reason, picked up following a review of the score. But needless to say, it was not a good night for SEC officials.

There was still a game to play despite the officials' blunders, and LSU took advantage of its good fortune.

With one timeout in tow, LSU moved the ball to the Auburn 22 with under 50 seconds remaining (this link features the play) and seemed content to attempt a winning field goal. The play clock began with around 35 seconds left in the game, and LSU, seemingly confused with what course of action to take, let the clock whittle down to nine seconds, and then ran a playnot just a play, mind you, but a play where Flynn dropped back to pass.

With one-on-one coverage to the outside, he found Demetrius Byrd in the corner of the end zone, and Byrd made a spectacular catch with one second left to give LSU the de facto win, 30-24.

Les Miles will be called gutsy, heroic, courageous, determined, and any number of other wild adjectives for his call as time ran down.

But allow me to throw another colorful adjective into the mix: idiotic.

In all honesty, it seemed LSU had no idea what to do as the clock ticked under 30 seconds, and while Miles claimed after the game that his team had "16 or 18 seconds" at the start of the final play, in reality it was half that total.

Granted, had Flynn's pass been off target, there would have been three seconds left following the incompletion. But what if Flynn is sacked there, with the clock running out or taking LSU out of field goal range? What if the pass is batted high up into the air in the end zone, causing those precious last few seconds to tick away?

The bottom line is Miles didn't make a stupid call to throw to the end zone. He made a stupid call in waiting until nine seconds remained before doing so, when he could have thrown with 15 seconds left and been completely sure of his situation.

Miles' bravado got the best of him last week after it paid off in a big way against Florida. Now, he's back to being the gutty, fearless coach who goes for the throat.

But if, in this season of the extraordinary happening every week, something went awry on that last pass and time had expired, Miles' foolish fearlessness would have been all over the airwaves and he would have had to answer why, exactly, he cost his team a shot at a national championship.

Runner-up: Miami (Fla.) 37, Florida State 29

10. Craziest game of the day: Oklahoma State 41, Kansas State 39

While we're handing LSU the mythical plaque for playing the most "best" games of the year, let's let Mike Gundy fantasize about what his fictional trophy would look like for playing the most "craziest" games (hint: the phrases "I'm a man," "I'm 40!," and "that's garbage" are probably going to be prominently featured).

Despite losing a tough game they never should have lost at Texas A&M, the Cowboys have won four of their last five since a disastrous start found them getting dismantled by Georgia and Troy. The ground game was working again today, as Zac Robinson and Dantrell Savage combined for 248 of the team's 336 rushing yards.

Those rushing stats are all the more amazing considering the circumstances.

K-State jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and led 21-7 after a Jordy Nelson TD reception in the second quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Perrish Cox returned the ball 98 yards for a score and from there, the back-and-forth affair began.

Oklahoma State took its first and only seven-point lead on a Brandon Pettigrew TD reception with four-and-a-half minutes to play, but Josh Freeman needed just three minutes to lead K-State back down the field and pull the Wildcats to within one, at 38-37, with a score. Then, Ron Prince channeled his inner-Les Miles and went for two, where Freeman found Nelson to take a one-point lead.

As Lee Corso would annoyingly remind us, "Not so fast my friend." A good kickoff return set the Cowboys up just shy of midfield, and five plays later, Jason Ricks nailed a 26-yard field goal for the win.

Oklahoma State, an afterthought in the last week of September, seems to have reinvented itself since Gundy's classic tirade. The Big 12 South could come down to the annual Bedlam Game with the rival Sooners, but the Cowboys had better worry about visits from Texas and Kansas before thinking about Bob Stoops' bunch.

Runner-up: Toledo 43, Ohio 40

9. Who beat Nebraska this week?

Might as well call this the Steve Pederson alumnus award.

Last week we tracked the depths the Pittsburgh football program (where Pederson was once the athletic director) has sunk to, and this week we travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Pederson has been recently deposed as the Cornhuskers' AD.

Before we move along, a tip of the cap to Dave Wannstedt, who, despite tearing his Achilles' tendon earlier this week, coached his Panthers to a win over No. 23 Cincinnati from the Heinz Field press box (his lesser involvement couldn't be the reason they won, could it!?!?).

But I digress.

After canning Pederson following their embarrassing display last week against Oklahoma State, the ‘Husker nation welcomed back legendary coach Tom Osborne as the school's interim AD, and Bill Callahan's team (at least you can call them that as of 2:30 Sunday morning) responded by laying down against equally lame duck Dennis Franchione and Texas A&M.

The ‘Huskers were gouged for 362 yards on the ground, 300 of which came from running QB Stephen McGee and wrecking ball RB Jorvorskie Lane (how good of Franchione to remember he's still on the team). Lane had all four of the Aggies' rushing touchdowns and A&M turned a close game at halftime (16-14) into a second-half rout.

Where does Nebraska go from here?

Well, in order to become bowl eligible, they'll have to win two of their remaining four  gamesthree road games (Texas, Kansas, and Colorado) and one home game (Kansas State). So, basically, the season's over. Whether Callahan survives until the next game is anyone's guess from here, but should the ax fall, we hear there's a remake of The Fabulous Baker Boys waiting to be made.

8. Who beat Notre Dame this week?

The USC Trojans had a harrowing experience on their flight to South Bend to take on the not-so-Fightin' Irish, but after a thankfully safe landing, stress on the ground was a mere afterthought.

USC ran up 38 points against Notre Dame with a well-balanced run-pass mix, led by Mark Sanchez's sterling performance (234 yards passing and 4 TDs).

On the other hand, the Fightless Irish scored the same number of points you racked up from your couch this afternoon. Evan Sharpley, the latest quarterback to be thrown to the wolves by Charlie Weis, played like a quarterback who had only thrown 80 career passes in college, and Notre Dame's defense spent most of the game on the field once again.

The Irish are one absolute UCLA stink bomb from being 0-8, but now have a week off before facing Navy, which hasn't beaten Rockne's boys since Roger Staubach was under center in 1963. But if ever there were a year for the Midshipmen to stop the streak, it's this one. Air Force visits the following week, and if Vegas gives Navy the nod, both service academies will be favored in South Bend. Keep your head up, Charlie.

7. On the rise: Penn State, Oklahoma State, Virginia

The Nittany Lions have reeled off three in a row since taking a vacation against Michigan and Illinois, looking impressive on offense against Indiana in Bloomington.

Penn State should have won by three touchdowns, but in classic Joe Paterno style, they played it safe rather than play to their strengths, turning three turnovers deep in Indiana territory into a mere nine points. But Anthony Morelli finally looks comfortable in the pocket, and if he has time to throw, Ohio State could be in trouble next week.

Oklahoma State has been covered to some extent, but it's still impressive to see a team that looked like it was well on its way to being one of the country's disappointments not only stop the bleeding, but contend for a division title.

And I think it's finally time to give Virginia some credit.

I'm not sure how they keep doing it, but they're doing it.

They've won seven in a row after eeking past Maryland 18-17 in College Park, and even though five of those wins have been by a combined 11 points, they haven't lost since the season opening disaster at Wyoming. They haven't exactly been knocking off the '95 Nebraskas of the world, and the schedule gets a bit tougher to close after a trip to N.C. State, but the Cavaliers certainly know how to win tight games.

6. On the decline: Illinois, Cincinnati, California

Illinois, for all its accomplishments this season, is a bit of a mess right now.

Ron Zook keeps jerking his quarterbacks around and, given they've both struggled quite a bit, it may seem to make sense, but perhaps they're struggling because they're being jerked around. Just a guess. Meanwhile, Michigan tried to give them their game this week on a silver platter, but the Illini didn't seem to want to take it.

They played a stupid, undisciplined game, and despite not having to deal with Mike Hart, Illinois killed itself with penalties.

Cincinnati was a nice, under-the-radar team after starting 6-0, but turnovers plagued the Bearcats in their loss last week to Louisville, and it was the some old story this week at Pittsburgh. The fact the Panthers will able to run over, around, and through Brian Kelly's team certainly didn't help either.

South Florida, UConn, and West Virginia are on the horizon next.

Finally, Cal has the excuse of not having quarterback Nate Longshore during its loss to Oregon State last week, and considering the backup QB quite literally lost the game for his team, it was hard to dock the Bears too much.

But after having a healthy Longshore back at UCLA, it's impossible to defend Cal for losing again to an inferior team. Longshore threw three picks and amazingly it's UCLA, not Cal, which finds itself at the top of the Pac-10 standings midway through the year.

5. Which conference embarrassed itself the most this weekend?

The Big East loses even when it wins. Rutgers has now knocked off two undefeated teams in as many years (Louisville and now South Florida), at least one of which would have gone on to play for the National Championship. In some leagues, that's parity. In this league, it's a disaster.

Sure, it's great there are six competitive teams in this conference (Pitt and Syracuse have both upset ranked teams), but the thing the conference needs the most is a dominant team. It needed a West Virginia or South Florida to make it through unscathed, though tested along the way, and then put in a good performance or even notch a win in the National Championship game.

If you pay close attention you can see there's some quality depth in the Big East. But to most people, it's still the joke of a conference that lost Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College a few years back.

Back-and-forth play may be good for the conference's internal image, but to the viewing public, it's a conference lacking the talent to have a dominant force.

4. Which conference made itself proud?

The Pac-10 has five teams legitimately involved in the race for the Rose Bowl, so we'll throw some props their way this week. It's the most exciting conference race right now outside of the SEC East, and we'll find out quite a bit more next week with USC at Oregon and Cal visiting Arizona State.

And then there's UCLA.

Blown out by Utah and earning the distinction as the only team to suck enough to lose to Notre Dame, the Bruins are still undefeated in conference despite the weekly calls for Karl Dorrell's dismissal.

In a weird way, they're having a great season—and it should continue with games against the conference's twin doormats, Washington State and Arizona, before a crazy finish against three ranked opponents.

But is there any doubt the Bruins will find a way to lose in Pullman or Tempe?

Regardless, this race will come down to the first day of December.

3. Complaining about that holding that wasn't called in the second quarter isn't going to do you any good, but when it directly effects a scoring play, that's another matter.

We documented the dubious officiating in the Auburn-LSU game a bit earlier, and while there was a flag picked up on a scoring play that should have been called (thus negating an LSU touchdown), it was at least somewhat debatable. That wasn't the case Friday night in East Hartford, Connecticut.

With Louisville clinging to a 7-0 lead in the third quarter, the Cardinals punted the ball toward UConn return man Larry Taylor, who, after realizing there was a red-and-white defender bearing down on him, waved his hand once in the air to seemingly signal a fair catch.

The defender slowed up, but Taylor took off, running through a Louisville coverage unit that had slowed down and, in some cases, given up, when they saw Taylor's hand wave in the air.

There are a number of instances in college football every week where you can fault a player for "quitting" on a play. This isn't one of thosein this case, as a coverage unit, you have to quit on a play when you see that hand in the air.

Otherwise, you're subject to kick-catch interference or any of a number of other infractions they'll get you for if you play past the whistle.

The problem here was the official definition of a fair-catch signal requires a player to wave his hand back and forth (not just back, or forth, as Taylor did). But the rub lies in the fact waving your hand ONCE is an illegal signal of a fair catch, something that can be considered designed to catch the coverage team off-guard, regardless of the returner's intent.

The officials let the play go rather than flagging what was an illegal signal, UConn scored to tie the game, and the Huskies eventually won.

This Big East crew should be fined and suspended for not making that call, and if for some reason the Big East office is OK with their actions, the NCAA needs to seriously look at how the rule is written. How is Louisville supposed to discern how he waved his hand?

You see a hand in the air, you let up. Period.

2. Top five games to watch next weekend, plus an arbitrary Heisman top five considering that figuring out when the Rockies are going to lose next may be easier at this point:

Boston College at Virginia Tech (Thursday), USC at Oregon, Florida v. Georgia, Cal at Arizona State, Ohio State at Penn State

1. Dennis Dixon

2. Tim Tebow

3. Andre' Woodson

4. Matt Ryan

5. Mike Hart

1. Top 10 teams as of 10/20:

1. Ohio State

2. LSU

3. Oregon

4. Boston College

5. Oklahoma

6. USF

7. West Virginia

8. Florida

9. Arizona State

10. Missouri


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