With the final Saturday in October essentially over (Hawaii leads Nevada 14-10 at the half), you would think that conference races would offer something in the way of clarity. That's true for the Big Ten and Pac-10, and the SEC has come down to next week's showdown in Jacksonville for the right to take on Alabama (they're in really good shape with a two-game lead in the West). But the ACC and Big East? The ACC race stands to be crazy until the season ends, and the Big East has an old favorite (West Virginia) atop the standings despite the fact that they didn't even play a conference game this weekend. Here are seven key happenings on Saturday.
1) Two showdowns set up for next Saturday.
Those games: Texas @ Texas Tech and Florida vs. Georgia. Texas Tech and Georgia whipped ranked opponents on the road while the Gators blasted Kentucky 63-5. Texas survived a four-quarter test from sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, setting up their trip to Lubbock next week as the game that could decide the Big 12 South should the Horns win (Tech still has Oklahoma State and Oklahoma following next week's game). The most impressive: Texas Tech, who was able to pick off three Todd Reesing passes while slinging the ball up and down the field on offense. Right behind them would be the Gators, who used an early blocked punt to jump all over the Wildcats in The Swamp.
The best unit: that honor could be given to the much-maligned Georgia offensive line that neutralized LSU's vanuted front four. Be it a conventional front or their new "LSU express" that features four defensive ends, the Tigers didn't offer much in the way of resistance for either Matthew Stafford or Knowshon Moreno. Both games will have a lot on the line, and the fact that they're rivalry games makes them all the more intriguing.
2) Just when you want to put your faith in Pittsburgh...
They go out and get 54 points hung on them by a Rutgers team that has looked borderline inept on offense when facing FBS opponents. LeSean McCoy had a good day for the Panthers, but QB BIll Stull was carted off the field with a head injury. He's OK but will be kept in the hospital overnight for observation. The Panthers were considered odd-on favorite to win the Big East going into this weekend, but the results on Saturday have given that title to defending co-champion West Virginia. South Florida picked up their second league loss, and Cincinnati couldn't convert a third down for the second consecutive conference game (and turned the ball over five times) in getting whipped at Connecticut.
But despite the fact that they're just a game out in the loss column, you have to think of Pitt as the big loser in the Big East this weekend.
3) Maybe it's time that I start believing in Florida State.
While the Florida State offense has its fair share of troubles, that defense in no joke. And if there's any doubt about that, ask Virginia Tech quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon. Both were knocked out of the game in a 30-20 FSU win, leaving a struggling offense to Cory Holt. That wasn't going to get the job done on the road. The Seminole defense held the Hokies to eighty-two yards on the ground and 1-11 on third down, forcing two key turnovers in the process. Christian Ponder and the Florida State offense isn't going to win games in an explosive fashion, so the win today is the perfect recipe for them winning the wide-open ACC: don't turn the ball over and take advantage of opportunities given to them by that excellent defense.
4) Penn State gets their first win in Columbus since 1978.
The game turned on a Terrelle Pryor fumble in the fourth quarter that was recovered by LB Navorro Bowman. From there, backup QB Pat Devlin led the Nittany Lions down the field (with considerable help from RB Evan Royster) for the gamewinning touchdown. The 13-6 win wasn't pretty, but for the Lions to gain 160 yards on the ground against the Big Ten's stingiest run defense says something about the toughness of Joe Paterno's team. An unsung hero in this game of field position: Penn State punter Jeremy Boone, who averaged 43.5 yards per punt (four punts) and had three inside the twenty yard-line. Left on the schedule is a final road game at Iowa, then home games against Indiana and Michigan State to end the season. They'll be favored to win all three, and I don't think overconfidence will be a problem down the stretch.
5) Tennessee's defense did a pretty good job against Alabama...
But the fact that the final score was 29-9 has a lot more to do with the play of their offense than anything that a tired D didn't do. Watching the Volunteers with the football was like the late John McKay quote about the execution of his offense ("I'm all in favor of it.") coming to life. The series that foreshadowed a bad ending for Tennessee: the possession that began on the Alabama 5 thanks to the Dennis Rogan recovery of a Javier Arenas muffed punt. From there began the backwards march due to a false start and a sack, leaving Daniel Lincoln to salvage three points.
Essentially a microcosm of the Volunteers' season, this drive showed why I should have never even entertained the thought of Tennessee winning the game, much less going ahead and picking the upset. Point blank, Phil Fulmer and his team are in a whole lot of trouble heading into the final month of the season.
6) Navy rushes, literally, to a 34-7 win over SMU.
Bad elements + 3rd string quarterback + a visit from the nation's 109th-ranked rush defense = no reason to throw the football according to the Midshipmen. Navy became the first team since Ohio in 1997 to finish a game without attempting a pass. But the lack of balance didn't matter at all as the aformentioned quarterback Ricky Dobbs went off for 224 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Navy held the ball for 42:38 and went 13-18 on third down. Not a game that'll make waves on the national scene, but the fact that a team won a game without even looking to throw the ball is amazing given the influence that the spread offense has had on college football in recent years.
7) The run of the day goes to Kent State.
The Golden Flashes went into the second quarter trailing Miami (Ohio) 7-3. Not sure what was said on the sidelines, but when the whipping stopped Kent State led 47-7 at the end of the third quarter. RB Eugene Jarvis put on a show in the second quarter, rushing for four touchdowns. KSU finished the day with 305 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdonws, but they did receive some help from the Redhawks. Well, how about too much help as Miami turned the ball over six times (four lost fumbles) in the 54-21 beating. Nice way for Kent State to pick up their first conference win of the year.
Offensive Performance of the Day: Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. Harrell, who was 34-42 for 386 yards and five touchdowns, also ran for a touchdown in the Red Raiders' 63-21 win over Kansas.
My BCS Top 5 Projection:
Texas, Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma, USC. Look for the gap between Penn State and Alabama to close a little due to the computers' regard for Ohio State (average of 5th; USC had a computer average of 10th) heading into this weekend.