I think it's safe to say that I have some crow to eat after this weekend's games. Here are my 10 thoughts from this weekend.
1. Oregon Rolls, Makes a Believer Out of Me
For the last several weeks, I (along with many others) have been pointing to last night's showdown with USC in the Coliseum as the first big test of the season.
Logic would suggest that a defensive coordinator with nearly 40 years of experience would be able to develop a scheme to at least slow down the Duck's attack. Add in the fact that he had two weeks to prepare and one of the most talent-rich rosters in the country and you have a situation that should prove to be quite the test for Chip Kelly's offense.
Not so much...the Ducks went through the Trojan defense like a knife through warm butter on their way to rolling up 53. In the interest of full disclosure, the Oregon defense gave up 32 points (the highest total they have surrendered all season). However, the defense stepped up when it counted, shutting out the Trojans in the fourth quarter when the game was still relatively close (Oregon's lead was only 11 after three quarters).
Possibly more important than Oregon winning was USC losing. Will this end up being the game that people point to when talking about the final fall of Pete Carroll's Pac-10 empire? This, along with the 55-21 thrashing by Stanford last year, is proof that the rest of the conference has caught up with the Men of Troy. For the second consecutive year, the Trojans have lost multiple home games after losing only once at home in the previous seven years.
2. Cam Newton and Auburn Take Care of Business in Oxford
Cameron Newton only had 250 yards of total offense this weekend, not because he was incapable of getting more, but because the Tigers didn't need anything else in order to take care of Ole Miss 51-31.
Jeremiah Massoli and the Rebel offense had a good showing, but the game was never in doubt after halftime. This was a big victory for the Tigers, as their previous two games away from Jordan Hare Stadium have been less than impressive (17-14 win in Stakville and a 37-34 victory in Lexington). Had Auburn's road struggles continued, I would have been much more hesitant about their ability to win the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Yesterday's win proved that Auburn can enter a hostile environment and still play at the top of their game.
On a side note, could you imagine a national championship game between Oregon and Auburn? Both teams have top-10 offenses and defenses outside of the top-35. If I were to set the over/under at 110 points, which way would you bet?
3. Michigan State Dominated by Iowa, Four-Team Tie at the Top of the Big Ten
Michigan State has been living on the edge all season, and finally a team came along to knock them off. After last week's home loss to Wisconsin, you got the feeling that Kirk Ferentz would not lose consecutive games at Kinnick Stadium. The pink locker room and crazed Hawkeye fans would not allow Iowa to lose again.
Not only did the Hawkeyes win, but they won big. Kirk Cousins has had some magical games this year, but there wasn't enough magic in the world to bring MSU back from a 30-0 halftime deficit. Even with the loss, it has been a great run for Sparty, and I'm convinced that as long as D'Antonio is on the sidelines, Michigan State's best days are ahead of them.
As for this season, the Spartan loss creates a four-way tie for first in the Big Ten (could have been five-way if Purdue won in Champaign) between Iowa, Sparty, Wisconsin and Ohio State. OSU's visit to Iowa on 11/20 is the only game remaining between the top four teams. It is likely that this season will end in a three-way tie at 7-1. With two losses and a No. 18 AP ranking (after last week), Iowa appears to be out of the conversation for a BCS bid. However, if two or three one-loss teams are left standing, the Big Ten still has a chance to put two teams in BCS bowls (though a national championship appears to be out of the picture). The Spartan loss also puts Ohio State back in control of their conference championship destiny. If the Buckeyes win out, they will tie their own record of six consecutive Big Ten titles.
4. Nebraska Regains Control of Big 12 North
Call it a hangover if you want, but I think Nebraska was just the better team yesterday. Just like Mizzou dominated every aspect of their showdown with Oklahoma, the Huskers dominated the Tigers yesterday.
The Nebraska offense had to attempt only three second half passes on their way to a 31-17 win at home. It is a shame that Nebraska got tripped up against Texas, because they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to compete with Auburn and Oregon. Nebraska is back in the driver's seat in the Big XII North and well on their way to the conference title game in their final season before departing for the Big Ten. Missouri and Iowa State are still both in the race should Nebraska trip up. Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats are still mathematically in the race, but will need a miracle.
5. TCU and Utah Win, Set up Showdown in Salt Lake City Next Saturday
The biggest game of the season to date will be played at Rice-Eccles stadium next weekend. Utah won a close game at Air Force while TCU travelled to Las Vegas and easily took care of UNLV. The winner of this game should get a pretty big boost in the computer polling. This is going to hurt Boise State supporters, but the winner of this game has a better chance of getting to the title game than the Broncos. It isn't fair; it's just fact.
Regardless of who wins, their victory will be the best that any non-AQ school will pick up this year. For the record, I'm picking Utah to pull the upset. The Utes have lost only five home games in five-plus seasons under Kyle Whittingham. Their last loss at home came in September '07.
6. ACC Florida Schools Lose on the Road
At the start of this season, Florida State and Miami were picked by many to win their divisions and meet for the ACC title. However, this week both teams were dominated on the road and they no longer control their own destiny.
Miami's loss in Charlottesville has allowed Virginia Tech to open up a two game lead in the Coastal Division, making the Hokies a near lock to make it to Charlotte. Florida State's road loss Thursday Night in Raleigh has created a three-way tie for the top spot in the Atlantic Division between the Seminoles, Wolfpack, and Maryland Terrapins. NC State and Maryland both control their own destiny, but have difficult schedules ahead of them. FSU has a relatively easy schedule, but needs NCSU to fall in order to win the Atlantic.
Along with the Big XII South, the ACC Atlantic should have one of the most exciting races that will continue through most of November.
7. Pitt Wins again, has no Excuse to not Win Big East
After three weeks of Big East play, the Pittsburgh Panthers (3-0) have a one-game lead over Syracuse and Rutgers (both of whom they have defeated). The other five teams in the Big East are all 1-2. West Virginia removed themselves from the conference title picture with their loss at Connecticut. Syracuse (2-1) dominated Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium and Rutgers (1-1) had a bye. At one loss each, the Orange and Scarlet Knights still have slim hopes for the conference title.
To recap, the Pittsburgh Panthers (5-3 with losses at Utah and Notre Dame and an embarrassing home loss to Miami) will need to lose twice in their final four games to not make the BCS. At the same time, and undefeated MWC champion will need Boise State to lose in order to guarantee themselves a spot in a BCS bowl. Why does a three or four-loss Big East champion still have an automatic BCS bid while the MWC champ needs to go undefeated AND get help to play in the same bowl?!?
8. Notre Dame Loses at Home, Bowl Unlikely
**Before I begin with my commentary, the death of Declan Sullivan is one of the greatest college football tragedies in recent memory. We can only hope that things will be done to prevent something like this from ever happening again**
Up until this week, I have said that Brian Kelly is an outstanding Xs and Os coach who deserves the benefit of the doubt in spite of the losses so far this season.
I would like to make a 180 on much of what I've said about Kelly this season. The Notre Dame football program is in trouble. They suffered a blowout loss last weekend at Navy, leading some to question Kelly's ability as a coach. Kelly's troubles were magnified tenfold by the tragic death of a student employee during Wednesday's practice, which has led some to question Kelly's character for putting a student in such a dangerous situation (Ohio State's Jim Tressel elected to stay inside Wednesday, citing safety concerns for staff as a key reason in a morning press conference).
In these situations, players will either quit on their coach/themselves, or unite as a team and play through the adversity. Attitude reflects leadership, and this team has clearly quit. Notre Dame now has two weeks to think about their last two losses and the recent tragedy before getting they play their final three with slim hopes of going bowling. The Irish will now need to win two of three at home vs Utah, vs a much improved Army team in Yankee Stadium, and at USC. Good luck, I'll be really impressed if Kelly can get this team to rally and save face.
To recap, in the last week, Brian Kelly has allowed his team to quit on him. He also made a decision regarding his team and employees that has led many to question his character, as they did after how he handled his departure from Cincinnati before the biggest game in school history. Though he is still one of the better Xs and Os offensive coaches in football, I don't think that I would be comfortable sending my hypothetical son to play for him. Right or wrong, rival coaches will use this week's unfortunate events against him in recruiting.
9. Big XII South is Best Race Heading Down the Stretch
With four weeks remaining in the regular season, there is a three-way tie in the loss column at the top of the Big XII South. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State shouldn't surprise anyone. However, the third team still in the race is Baylor. Robert Griffin has led the Bears to a 7-2 (4-1) record with only three games remaining. Included in their seven wins, includes a huge victory in Austin yesterday afternoon (their first since win since 1997 and first in Austin since '91). The Bears head to Sillwater next week for the first game of a round robin that will determine the division champion (barring any upset losses along the way). OSU has the advantage of hosting both Baylor and Oklahoma while the Sooners will play both Baylor and the Cowboys on the road. With Oklahoma's offensive rating (14th) being the lowest of the three teams, the final month of this season should provide quite a few fireworks.
10. Florida and South Carolina Remain in SEC East Race
Florida's win over Georgia in the Cocktail Party leaves the Gators and Gamecocks as the only remaining teams in the SEC East race (Vandy is technically still alive, but who are we kidding...it's Vandy). The November 13th game in Gainseville will decide who gets to go to Atlanta for the right to lose to the Iron Bowl winner. I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but the SEC East is horrible. The six teams from the East currently have only two wins against teams from the West. To further illustrate the struggles of the SEC East, its teams have a combined record of 23-27 (.460 winning percentage) and 12-23 in conference. Compare that to the the much maligned Big East that has a 35-27 (.564) record as a conference.
My Top 10 (Last Week)
1. Oregon (1)
2. Auburn (2)
3. Boise State (3)
4. TCU (4)
5. Alabama (6)
6. Utah (8)
7. Wisconsin (9)
8. Nebraska (NR)
9. Stanford (10)
10. Ohio State (NR)
The Next Five: Oklahoma, LSU, Arizona, Missouri (7), Iowa