College Football Thoughts: Boise State Falls, Auburn Survives, TCU, Oregon Roll
With many of this weekend's biggest games on Friday or Saturday afternoon, I was able to get my Saturday Thoughts article done in record time. There was a mixed bag of results for the nation's top teams this weekend, allowing this show to practically write itself. This week, I'll touch on:
1. Boise's devastating loss in Reno
2. Auburn's comeback at Bryant-Denney
3. TCU and Oregon's blowout victories
4. Wisconsin's dominance of the Big Ten
5. Ohio State's dominance of Michigan
6. Bedlam's true to its name finish
7. The Arkansas offense and LSU's defense
8. Florida State's dominance of in-state rival Florida
9. What's new in the Big East
10. Notre Dame's late-season push
1. Boise State’s National Title Hopes End in Reno
As is usual, Boise State jumped out to a large first half lead (24-0) and it appeared that Chris Ault’s Nevada Wolf Pack were nothing more than the Broncos’ next victim. However, Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada offense had other plans. They finally broke through and got a TD as the game neared halftime. The offensive improvement fired up the Wolf Pack defense and it shut down the high-powered Boise offense for the first 25 minutes of the 2nd half.
The Nevada rushing game really got going after the half. Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua passed SMU’s Pony Express (Eric Dickerson and Craig James) for most career rushing yards by teammates as they led Nevada’s comeback. With the game tied at 24, Kellen Moore and the Boise offense were finally able to get a TD, only to have it immediately answered by Nevada.
In the final 10 seconds, Moore completed a miracle pass that set up kicker Kyle Brotzman with a chip shot FG to win the game. His wide-right miss sent the game to overtime, where he proceeded to miss a second kick, this time wide-left. The 34-31 Nevada victory ended Boise’s hopes of playing for the National Championship.
You have to feel bad for Brotzman who will likely have an unfair share of the blame on his shoulders. The fact of the matter is that unlike most opponents, Nevada didn’t roll over after Boise jumped out to its lead. Instead, they punched back, and I’m not sure Boise knew how to respond. When playing a schedule like Boise’s, you can’t be sure how your team will respond when challenged. There were times in the second half when Bronco players looked like deer in headlights.
I’ve heard several begin talking about Boise’s “glass jaw,” I disagree. To their credit, the Broncos managed to put together two drives that should have been game winners in the final minutes of regulation. I’m not sure where Boise will end up this bowl season, but they will deserve better.
The hometown Humanitarian Bowl is the most likely option, but I have another thought. With the Big Ten likely to be unable to fulfill its commitment to the Motor City Bowl, the folks in Detroit can invite any bowl eligible team to the game. The Las Vegas Bowl may also be looking for a team to fill the spot the Pac-10 can’t.
In Detroit, Boise would play likely MAC champion Northern Illinois. If they chose to play in Vegas, the Broncos would likely face MWC runner-up Utah. I’m not sure the Broncos would be willing to make either trip, but those games have the potential to be one of the better games of this bowl season (much like the TCU-Boise Poinsettia and Louisville-Boise Liberty Bowls from previous years).
My preference would be for a BSU-NIU Motor City Bowl. That way, I could drive up from Cleveland for the game and see the Broncos in person.
2. Auburn Survives Toughest Test of Season in Tuscaloosa
Every time the Auburn Tigers appear to be finished, Cam Newton pulls another rabbit out of his hat. As a four-point favorite, the Alabama Crimson Tide jumped out to a 24-0 first half lead (sound familiar???) and appeared to be well on its way to ending Auburn’s miracle season. A field goal late in the second quarter would begin a run Tiger that would bring the Alabama lead to under a touchdown at 27-21.
Newton would engineer two key drives in the fourth quarter. The first gave Auburn its first lead of the game, 28-27. The second drive drained the final seconds off the clock as the crowd at Bryant-Denney sat in stunned silence.
Auburn still has another big challenge ahead of it. The same South Carolina Gamecocks that nearly won on the Plains back in September. At this point, I see no reason to pick against Auburn again this season. The Tigers keep finding ways to win. Even when they don’t show up (Kentuky, Clemson), seem overmatched (Alabama), or out schemed (Arkansas, LSU) Auburn keeps winning. Kudos to Gene Chizik.
Lovers of defensive football should probably not watch the potential Auburn-Oregon National Championship Game. I’m not sure what the record is for most points in a BCS Title Game, but I have a hunch that the Tigers and Ducks would break it.
3. Oregon and TCU Roll
While Boise lost and Auburn struggled, TCU and Oregon met little resistance from their opponents Thanksgiving Weekend. Mike Stoops and the Arizona Wildcats became the most recent defense to be unable to slow down the Oregon attack Friday night at Autzen Stadium. At halftime, it seemed like the Wildcats had the answer. The 19-14 lead wouldn’t hold up as the Ducks outscored their opponents 34-10 in the second half.
Coming off their bye and a close win over San Diego State, the TCU Horned Frogs had a predictable blowout win over New Mexico in Albuquerque, 66-17. The Frogs are the first team in the clubhouse at 12-0. With the notable exception of the San Diego State game, the Frogs have dominated their opponents all season and are certainly worthy of being in the conversation for the BCS Championship.
Should either Auburn or Oregon fall next week, TCU looks like it will be able to hold off one-loss teams Wisconsin and Stanford to secure a spot in the BCS Title Game. If not, a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl is one heck of a consolation prize. A TCU-Wisconsin match up in the Rose Bowl Game might be the best game we see all bowl season.
4. Wisconsin Hammers Northwestern, Heading to Pasadena
At kickoff, Wisconsin knew that a win on senior day would essentially guarantee it a trip to the Rose Bowl. A win would put the Badgers in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten. Per conference rules, the highest ranked BCS team (currently Wisconsin) earns the conference’s automatic BCS bid. To say they took care of business would be an understatement. This time, Northwestern was the victim. The Wildcats were unable to accomplish much against Wisky on their way to a 70-23 defeat.
To give you an idea of how dominant Wisconsin was this season, over its Big Ten schedule (7-1), the Badgers have averaged over 40 points per game. In its last three games (Indiana, @Michigan, and Northwestern), the Wisconsin Badgers have put up 201 points. The Badgers were the only team that managed to cross the 30-point threshold against Ohio State’s top-five defense. Today's win was Wisconsin’s third game of 70-plus points and sixth win by 20 or more. The three-headed monster at running back (Clay, White, and Ball) has been unstoppable.
I like TCU and think that they have had an outstanding year, but I cannot in good conscience leave them ahead of Wisconsin in my top-ten. The Badgers have dominated its Big Ten schedule in a way that no team has in recent memory. I honestly don’t see a team I would call a favorite over Wisconsin.
5. Ohio State Extends Winning Streak to Over Michigan
Did anyone really expect the Wolverines to make a game of this one? Traveling to one of the most hostile environments in the nation a week after getting smoked by Wisconsin is usually not a recipe for success. That proved to be the case today as the Buckeyes rolled Michigan 37-7. In all honesty, the game wasn’t that close. The seven game winning-streak is the longest Ohio State has ever had over Michigan and is also the longest in the series since UM won nine in a row from 1901 to 1909. OSU goes for number eight next November in Ann Arbor.
The win put the Buckeyes in a three-way tie for the Big Ten Championship with Wisconsin and Michigan State. This marks the sixth consecutive year in which Ohio State won or shared the conference crown, tying its own record from the 1970s. With Wisconsin heading to Pasadena, a Sugar Bowl match up with either South Carolina or Arkansas seems to be OSU’s most likely destination. If not the Sugar Bowl, a game against Virginia Tech or Florida State in the Orange Bowl is almost guaranteed. Ohio State fans travel too well to justify leaving an 11-1 Buckeye team out of a BCS bowl game…sorry OSU haters.
The loss in Columbus moves Rich Rodriguez’s record to 0-12 against teams with a winning record in conference play, and 0-3 against the Buckeyes (none of which have been close). I’ve been saying it all season: until Michigan can improve its defense, it has no chance of competing for a Big Ten Title. Calls for change continue to get louder from Michigan fans, but the UM athletic director has said no decision will be made until after the Wolverine’s Bowl game. Some reports are saying that Michigan is already putting out feelers to Jim Harbaugh of Stanford (a UM alumnus). Time will tell, but one thing is for certain: defensive coordinator Greg Robinson won’t be back.
6. Bedlam Lives Up to Its Name
Once again, ESPN/ABC gave the Cleveland market a bummer by putting Notre Dame-USC on ABC and two SEC/ACC rivalry games on the ESPN networks, forcing me to watch the night’s only meaningful game on ESPN3.com.
Now that I’ve said my peace about that, I can get off my soapbox and get on with commentary. After three quarters, the game was tied at 24. That was the point that Bedlam earned its name. Oklahoma and OSU combined for 40 points in the last period. The Sooners scored on their final five possessions, three FGs and a pair of 75-plus yard TD passes by Landry Jones. Not to be outdone, OSU widoout Justin Blackmon threw a touchdown to QB Brandon Weeden and Justin Gilbert took an OU kick 90 yards for a score. A poor Cowboy onside kick attempt sealed the game for Oklahoma.
With the win, the Sooners forced another three-way tie in the Big XII South. In the BCS, Oklahoma will likely be ranked highest, followed by Texas A&M, with OSU third. Unless TAMU can get within one place of OU, the Sooners will be playing for the conference title game instead of a team that beat them. Texas A&M is going to be punished in the BCS for being the only three-loss team in the tie. The Aggie loss came at the hands of Arkansas on a neutral field. The Hogs are a top-ten team and the strongest OOC opponent that any of the Big XII South contenders played this season…by a long shot. The Big XII is essentially punishing TAMU for scheduling a tough OOC opponent. Congratulations Big XII for screwing up…again.
7. Arkansas Keeps BCS Hopes Alive with Win over LSU
Ryan Mallet’s 320 yards passing and 3 touchdowns were enough to get the Razorbacks past LSU Saturday afternoon in Little Rock. The Razorbacks outplayed LSU in all aspects of the game on their way to a convincing 31-23 victory. In the last two months, Sophomore RB Knile Davis has emerged as one of the SEC’s best ball carriers. Between Davis and Sophomore QB Tyler Wilson (who has looked good in relief of Ryan Mallet), the Hogs seem to be set offensively for the next couple of seasons.
An Auburn win over South Carolina next week will likely put Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State while Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina end up in the Cotton, Citrus, and Outback Bowls (not sure who goes where). Should Carolina shock the world again, the Hogs and Gamecocks will likely switch places.
I’m not sure what has gotten into the LSU defense the last couple of weeks. After going the first 10 weeks without giving up more that 29 (against Florida in the Swamp), the Tigers have been torched by Ole Miss and now Arkansas for 36 and 31 points respectively. I’m going to guess that part of the problem is the ineffectiveness of the LSU offense. The defense has been spending WAY too much time on the field and is probably running out of gas as we approach the end of the season. Hopefully for LSU, the month rest will get the D back on track. If it doesn’t, the bowl season won’t be much fun for the Bayou Bengals.
8. Florida State Dominates Florida, Heading to Charlotte Thanks to Maryland
Urban Meyer’s undefeated streak over Florida State has ended with the Seminole’s 31-7 victory in Tallahassee. For the first time in nearly a decade, there is no disputing that Florida State is clearly the best team in its state…by a long shot. The win over Florida gives Jimbo Fischer a good first season from which to build. Though he will want to forget the blowout loss in Norman and consecutive losses at NC State and at home to UNC, this has arguably been the most successful season at FSU since the Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
The only thing that would make this season better would be a trip to Charlotte to play for the conference championship. The loss a month ago in Raleigh took FSU’s fate out of its own hands. Instead, the ‘Noles had to rely on the same Maryland team that they beat last week. Needless to say, the Seminole faithful had one eye of the Florida game, and the other on the game in College Park, MD. The Terps came through with a 38-31 victory over NC State at Byrd Stadium. Florida State and Virginia Tech will meet in next week’s ACC Championship. The game feature two of the league’s “football powers” for the first time since these same two schools met in 2005’s inaugural game, a 27-22 Seminole victory.
9. West Virginia Wins Backyard Brawl, UConn Controls Big East
In spite of their 6-4 overall record, the Pittsburgh Panthers went into Friday’s Backyard Brawl with West Virginia in the driver’s seat for the Big East BCS bid (likely to the Fiesta Bowl). That ceased to be the case when WVU manhandled Pitt 35-10 in front of the Panthers’ home crown at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh loss combined with Connecticut’s win over Cincinnati Friday creates a three-way tie at the top of the much-maligned Big East. Due to its wins over both Pitt and WVU, UConn controls its own destiny. Win next week in Tampa, and the Huskies will be headed to Glendale to play the Big XII champion or the Orange Bowl to play the ACC champ.
Should UConn fall, WVU goes to the desert with a home win over Rutgers. Pitt is still alive, but will need help from USF and Rutgers. For those of you keeping score at home, four-loss UConn controls its own BCS destiny while three-loss WVU and FIVE-LOSS Pitt are still alive. Meanwhile, one-loss Michigan State appears destined for the Citrus Bowl and one-loss WAC co-champs Boise State and Nevada are looking at trips to the Humanitarian and Fight Hunger Bowls respectively. There is something seriously wrong with that statement!!! Hopefully, the new-look MWC will eventually get a BCS-AQ bid and end nonsense like this.
10. Notre Dame’s Post-Tulsa Rebound Continues In LA
After losing to Tulsa, many people (myself included) left Notre Dame for dead. The Irish needed to win two of three against Utah, Army, and USC. After a bye, ND responded by blowing out Utah and Army to get bowl eligible. They then took an 18-year old QB to the LA Coliseum and won a 20-16 defensive battle, reversing a near decade of dominance by USC.
I have voiced many very different opinions about Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. I still believe that there are some serious character issues given some of his past decisions. One thing that I will never do is take away from his reputation as an offensive guru. If he can continue to bring in top-10 recruiting classes, I feel Notre Dame has found their man. Kelly can build a program.
The win also makes a big difference in terms of where the Irish will go bowling next month. A loss would have left them at 6-6 and in the Motor city or Las Vegas Bowls. With the win, the 7-5 Irish become an attractive option for the Champs Sports Bowl (due to the ND tie-in with the Big East) or the Sun Bowl (due to the lack of eligible Pac-10 teams). A Sun Bowl against old rival Miami (FL) would be an outstanding game. Catholics vs. Convicts, take two.
Top Ten (Last Week)
1. Oregon (1)
2. Auburn (2)
3. Wisconsin (5)
4. TCU (3)
5. Stanford (6)
6. Ohio State (7)
7. Michigan State (10)
8. Arkansas (NR)
9. Texas A&M (NR)
10. Nebraska (NR)
The Next Five: Missouri, Oklahoma, LSU, Nevada, Boise State