Showdown in Aggieland, Buckeyes Survive at Kinnick and Other CFB Thoughts
With the top three teams all off this weekend, I was afraid that I would be hard-pressed to come up with 10 interesting topics.
Instead, I was treated to what was (in my opinion) the most enjoyable Saturday of college football so far this season. During every time slot there were multiple nail-biters. I had the pleasure of being on the edge of my seat for the majority of the afternoon.
Without any further ado, here are my 10 thoughts on this weekend's action.
1. Texas A&M Is Back, and It's Good for College Football
Very rarely do you get to use the words “defensive battle” and “Big 12” in the same sentence.
That was exactly what we saw Saturday night in College Station. Nebraska made its final regular-season trip to Texas, losing 9-6 to Texas A&M. Taylor Martinez left the field early in the game with an ankle injury and missed the remainder of the first half. With the score tied at three after halftime, Martinez returned to try to lead his team to victory on one leg. Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, he was only able to gain 124 yards (107 passing and 17 rushing) for the game.
Earlier this season, the Aggies lost three in a row to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri (all in the AP Top 15). Head coach Mike Sherman’s job was on a less-than-firm foundation.
Since that losing streak, junior Ryan Tannehill took over at QB and has led TAMU on a five-game winning streak, including two wins over Top 10 opponents—Oklahoma two weeks ago and now Nebraska.
Mike Sherman’s boys now have a chance to end rival Texas’ season early next week in Austin. With Oklahoma State and Oklahoma’s blowout wins this weekend, a trip to Dallas for the conference title game seems to be out of the question. Stranger things have happened, though.
There are some programs that, when they are winning, make college football more fun to watch. Texas A&M is one of those programs. Watching the game, the intensity of the 90,000-plus fans in Kyle Field could be felt through the TV over 1,000 miles away. When the Aggies are good, the 12th man makes for one of the best game-day environments in the country.
The sudden resurgence of the Texas A&M program came at just the right time. Next year, the Big 12 is losing two of its historically strong football brands. A strong Texas A&M gives the conference more marquee games to sell when looking for its next TV deal.
In spite of its loss, Nebraska remains in control of its own destiny in the Big 12 North. Now in a tie with Missouri, the Cornhuskers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. A win at home against Colorado will send Nebraska to one final Big 12 Championship game.
Don’t discount Colorado, though. CU won a big game against Georgia earlier this year. With their bowl hopes on life support, the Buffs have pulled consecutive upsets against Iowa State and Kansas State. Thanksgiving weekend in the Big 12 is starting to look like a great one.
2. Boise State Routs Fresno on Senior Day
Saturday started early with Boise State’s Senior Day dismantling of Fresno State, 51-0, late Friday night. Fresno State was considered by many to be the first real test to Boise since the Broncos' matchup with Oregon State nearly two months ago.
The experts were correct, as the Bulldogs forced two first-quarter turnovers and trailed 3-0 at the end of one. Boise came out firing in the second, putting up 17 to extend its lead to 20-0 at the half. As a side note, BSU’s 20 points were tied for the lowest first-half point total all season with the Week 1 game against Virginia Tech.
Boise built on its 17-point second quarter by matching the point total in the third. The Broncos added two more fourth-quarter touchdowns for good measure. Next Friday’s trip to Reno is all that stands between Boise and a fifth undefeated regular season in the last seven years, their third in a row.
3. Ohio State Perseveres in Iowa City
When Ohio State fans looked at the 2010 schedule, there were two key games that made most of them nervous. The trip to Madison last month was the first, and Saturday’s visit to Kinnick Stadium was the second.
The Buckeyes fans’ fears proved to be well-founded. Ohio State found itself in an old-fashioned Big Ten defensive battle. The Hawkeyes won the battle in the trenches in the first half, heading into the locker room with a 7-3 lead. OSU was able to battle back in the third, and the game went to its final period tied at 10.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes linemen finally took over the game on both sides of the ball. Terrelle Pryor and Dan Herron managed to engineer a game-winning drive in the final minutes. With the win, Ohio State is one win away from tying its own record for consecutive Big Ten titles at six. However, the Buckeyes need some help from Northwestern if they are to make a return trip to Pasadena. New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl seem to be the likely end point for the Ohio State season.
4. Sparty Keeps Rose Bowl Hopes with Late Comeback Against Purdue
Michigan State came off its bye with what appeared to be an easy Senior Day matchup with Purdue. The Boilermakers were on a four-game losing streak, suffering three blowouts at the hands of Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin, followed by a heartbreaker at home against Michigan. Danny Hope’s team had other plans.
Needing to win out to become bowl-eligible, the Boilermakers jumped out to a 14-7 first quarter lead and went to the half up 21-13. The lead grew to 28-13 heading to the fourth. It was then that Kirk Cousins and the Big Ten’s version of the Cardiac Kids made their most impressive comeback of the season. Over the final 15 minutes, the Spartans were unstoppable, outscoring Purdue 22-3 to get a hard-fought victory.
Sparty still has an outside chance at going to Pasadena, but will need help from “big brother” Michigan. The Citrus (my mistake, Capital One) Bowl in Orlando seems to be the likely landing place for MSU. It is a real shame that teams like MSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford might be left out of the BCS so that the ACC and Big East champions can get in.
5. Ole Miss Gives LSU All It Can Handle
The LSU Tigers entered this week’s game with Ole Miss as the pick of many for best one-loss team and best defense in the nation. Because they play in the SEC, many people will still give them the benefit of the doubt on both. Jeremiah Massoli put up 250 total yards and led the Black Bears (err, Rebels) offense to 36 points, 12 more than any previous opponent.
While the defense struggled, the Tigers offense had its best day of the season, putting up 468 yards and 43 points against Mississippi’s awful defense. Ole Miss had a chance late, taking a 36-35 lead on a TD pass from Massoli to receiver Markeith Summers. Summers then incurred a bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving into the end zone. LSU took advantage of the good field position provided by the penalty in its game-winning drive.
LSU still has an outside chance at the BCS title game, but could just as easily end up playing fellow one-loss team Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl. The Tigers still have an important matchup against rival Arkansas next weekend that could determine if the SEC can get a BCS at-large bid.
6. Arkansas Wins a Double-OT Thriller in Starkville
This was the game that nobody seemed to want to win. ESPN’s prime-time game featured two teams from the middle of the SEC West.
The game went back and forth all night with Mississippi State losing its first-quarter lead before halftime. Arkansas jumped out to a 14-point lead with 10 minutes to go. After a Bulldogs TD, Arkansas managed to bleed the clock and force MSU to use all its timeouts.
Just when Mississippi State appeared finished, a Knile Davis fumble gave the Dawgs one last chance. A last-second field goal sent the game to overtime. In the first OT, a Vick Ballard fumble cost MSU a scoring opportunity. A rare miss by Arkansas freshman kicker Zach Hocker sent the game to double OT. A Ryan Mallett TD and Arkansas stand ended one of the day’s best games.
Next weekend’s game between Arkansas’ dynamic pass offense and the LSU defense should be a great one. A win could return the Hogs to the Top 10 and give them a good shot at a BCS at-large bid.
7. NC State Wins and Controls Its Own Destiny, Maryland Can Play Spoiler
This afternoon, the NC State Wolf Pack headed to Chapel Hill and got all the fight they could handle from the Tar Heels. A back-and-forth game that saw UNC make one final push before a safety sealed its fate. Interestingly, the win pushes Tom O’Brien’s record at NCSU to 4-0 over Butch Davis and the Tar Heels since both coaches took over in 2007. Sometimes one coach just has another’s number.
Later that night in College Park, the Florida State Seminoles kept their hopes for a conference title alive with a win over the Terps. In a close game that was moved to ESPN3.com in the Cleveland market, an interception in the final minute finally clinched the game for the ‘Noles.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, FSU is in the clubhouse in the ACC Atlantic race with a 6-2 mark. NC State, at 5-2, controls its own destiny due to the tiebreaker it holds over the ‘Noles. Even though Maryland is out of the race, it still has the chance to play spoiler with a win next week at home.
8. Virginia Tech Locks Up ACC Coastal
While the ACC Atlantic was very much in contest, Virginia Tech started the weekend with a two-game lead over Miami (FL) with two to play. A win at Dolphin (or Land Shark, Pro Player, Joe Robbie or whatever they call it now) Stadium would clinch the Hokies a return trip to the ACC title game in Charlotte.
The Hurricanes put up a bigger fight than I expected. Freshman QB Stephen Morris played about as well as could be expected, with starter Jacory Harris missing yet another game. The game was tied at 17 heading into the fourth, but VT ran away with two touchdowns in the final period. Tyrod Taylor didn’t light up the stat book, but he did enough for his team to win.
Credit Frank Beamer for rallying the troops following that embarrassing loss to James Madison. Things could have gotten ugly very quickly for the Hokies. However, they regained their focus and are now one win away from an undefeated conference season. Boise State supporters are cheering loudly as this win further helps the Broncos' SOS as we approach the final BCS poll.
9. Stanford and Oregon State Win Big Out West
With Oregon off this weekend, I wasn’t sure if there would be any Pac-10 news worth comment. Two blowouts were the only games that made much noise.
Stanford went to California Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon winless in Berkeley in its last four attempts. The Cardinal losing streak was ended emphatically with a 48-14 blowout victory. Andrew Luck continues to look like the best true QB in the country and the likely No. 1 overall pick in this spring’s NFL draft. He went 16-for-20 for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
One thing that has always struck me about the Pac-10 is the severe disparity between the conference’s haves and have-nots. Every season it seems like the conference has two or three dominant teams; the other seven vary from mediocre to downright terrible. The other major conferences seem to have more depth and competitiveness from top to bottom.
Later Saturday night, the Oregon State Beavers kept their slim bowl hopes alive with a dominant victory over USC. The Trojans struggles in Corvallis have now reached three consecutive trips. Matt Barkley was injured (and may possibly miss next week's game against Notre Dame) in Oregon State’s 36-7 victory.
The Beavers need one more win either at Stanford or at home in the Civil War to become bowl-eligible. Losses to Washington, Wazzu and UCLA have been the killers.
10. Utah Rebounds with Hard-Fought Victory
After a pair of disappointing road losses, the Utah Utes got back to their winning ways with a come-from-behind victory Saturday night in San Diego. The Utes trailed 27-24 at the half, and the San Diego State lead was extended by a touchdown in the third quarter. Jordan Wynn led two touchdown drives (79 and 97 yards, respectively) in the final seven minutes to win the game for Utah. The go-ahead touchdown was scored with just under a minute remaining.
The Utah win was important for voter perception of the Mountain West, more specifically, TCU’s strength of schedule. TCU is going to need help from Utah, SDSU and old rival SMU if it is to maintain its lead over Boise State in the BCS. Even if all three schools win out, it is still very likely that Boise will overtake the Frogs with a win next Friday in Reno.
Bonus Thought: Football on the Diamond
Yesterday, the new Yankee Stadium hosted its first football game, while Wrigley field hosted its first (and likely last) game in the last 40 years.
While a novel idea, there were far too many issues to ever consider returning football to Wrigley’s friendly confines. Only one sideline was useable, since putting players on the other would block fans’ view of the game. Not to mention that the right field wall was deemed too close to the back of the end zone for that half of the field to be useable.
However, it was a memorable experience to watch the game. Unfortunately, in the Cleveland market, ESPN decided to air VT-Miami and NASCAR practice instead, forcing me to watch the game on ESPN3.com.
That evening, Yankee Stadium proved to be more suited for football than Wrigley. Seeing Army and Notre Dame play in the Bronx was a treat and throwback to an older time.
Top 10 (Last Week)
1. Oregon (1)
2. Auburn (2)
3. TCU (3)
4. Boise State (4)
5. Wisconsin (5)
6. Stanford (6)
7. Ohio State (8)
8. Oklahoma State (10)
9. LSU (9)
10. Michigan State (10)
The Next Five: Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Missouri