Heading into this Saturday it seemed like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were well on their way to a seventh victory and a berth in either the Gator or Sun Bowl. All they had to do was beat Syracuse, playing for a recently dismissed head coach in Greg Robinson and dead last in the Big East. But while the Orange haven't played particularly well this season, you can't accuse this team of quitting. What ensued was one of the more stunning results of the day, with Syracuse stunning the Irish 24-23 on a late touchdown pass. Where do the Irish go from here? USC is the finale next week, and a loss there puts them at 6-6 and in a very tough situation. A 6-6 team can't be taken ahead of a team with a 7-5 record or better, so they could be in a very undesirable locale...if they accept a bid in that case. Beat USC and it doesn't matter, but they'll have a tough task in front of they in the Coliseum.
Here are the seven key points for this Saturday. And congrats to Florida State safety Myron Rolle for being named a Rhodes Scholar today. It's much better to hear this news when it comes to Florida State than hearing about receivers being suspended for getting into a lunchroom brawl.
1. Boy was I wrong about that Texas Tech/Oklahoma game.
Going into this one, it surprised me how quickly people were jumping off the Texas Tech bandwagon for their showdown in Norman with the Sooners, so much so that I actually picked the Red Raiders to win. Let's say it all together: fool. What ensued was one of the worst beatings of the season when you take into consideration the quality of the two teams, with the Sooners running away 65-21 in a game that was essentially over when Tech failed to convert a 4th-and-6 just past midfield with about twelve minutes left...in the second quarter. The Sooner offense did what it pleased, putting up more than 600 yards of offense in a brutally effiecient fashion (326 passing, 299 rushing). But that defense needs some credit as well, limiting the nation's best passing offense to 406 yards of total offense (45 on the ground) and 1-for-13 on third downs. That's not going to get it done if your on the road in a game of this magnitude.
Now the question is this: do the Sooners move ahead of Texas in the BCS standings when they're unveiled tomorrow afternoon? That depends on what pollsters and the computers value: the head-to-head meeting (which Texas won) or who's playing better football right now (Oklahoma would win that argument given what they did tonight). To push OU ahead of Texas would be, in some way, blaming the Longhorns for playing that game in early October and that wouldn't be fair at all. We shall see what happens, and what makes it all the more important is that in the case of a three-way tie the team ranked highest in the BCS is the one that goes to the Big 12 Championship Game.
2. Utah completes their undefeated season. Now they have to wait for two weeks.
The Utes got the job done against bitter rival BYU, picking off Max Hall five times in the 48-24 beating. Now 12-0, Kyle Whittingham's team is pretty much assured of a BCS at-large slot and they've earned it. QB Brian Johnson had an outstanding game in his final appearance in Rice-Eccles Stadium, going 30-36 for 303 yards and four touchdowns along with twenty-eight yards on the ground. But it was the Utah defense that made the difference in this one, forcing six turnovers and holding the Cougars to 4-12 on third down. The two-week wait should be little more than a coronation of what they've accomplished, but you never know with this system.
3. Cincinnati holds on to put a virtual chokehold on the Big East race.
Pittsburgh made this game close in the fourth quarter, scoring fourteen unanswered points to reach the 28-21 final. But this was the product of a dominant defensive showing by the Bearcats (264 total yards allowed and seven sacks) and QB Tony Pike's play in leading the Bearcat offense (26-32, 309 yards and three touchdowns). Now Brian Kelly's team is one win, over Syracuse next weekend, from clinching the Big East and heading most likely to the FedEx Orange Bowl (hence fans showering the field with oranges). But Syracuse won't be thought of as a pushover in that locker room, especially with what the Orange accomplished in South Bend. To think about where this program was in their final seasons in Conference USA (the New Orleans Bowl to the BCS? Almost like the Notorious B.I.G.'s quote about going from "ashy to classy") makes their rise all the more spectacular.
But there an unfortunate consequence of Cincinnati's success: Coach Kelly's name could be thrown around in regards to high-profile job openings in the month between the end of the regular season and their bowl game. But that's all for another day for Cincinnati, who should celebrate their recent success (their first-ever win over Pitt).
4. The dream lives in Corvallis, Oregon.
There were two plays that could have led Oregon State fans to believe that their first trip to Pasadena in more than forty years wasn't meant to be: James Rodgers dropping a deep ball that would have been the game-tying touchdown, then kicker Justin Kahut hooking a potentially game-tying extra point to leave the Beavers down 17-16 with four minutes remaining. But a pair of unlikely heroes stepped up in the 19-17 comeback victory: backup quarterback Sean Canfield and wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. With both players possessing a wealth of experience the word "unlikely" is a stretch, but given the amount of attention heaped upon the Rodgers brothers (Jacquizz was lost to injury and wasn't available) they've been forgotten by some.
It was this combination that picked up the slack for James Rodgers on that touchdown drive, and once again on the gamewinning charge with a deep ball to put Kahut in position to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive. Kahut did just that, hitting the kick as time expired. Every week people look for the wheels to fall off and the dream to die. But the Beavers continue to win games, with guys stepping up on a weekly basis. Maybe they are a team of destiny. Oregon will look to change that in the "Civil War" next weekend.
5. We finally have some frontrunners in the ACC. I think.
It's all cut and dry for these two teams: Boston College (Atlantic) and Virginia Tech (Coastal) win next week and they'll meet in Tampa on December 6th. The only other teams with a shot are Florida State and Georgia Tech, who need those two to lose in order to get in. Boston College, who lost starting QB Chris Crane to a broken collarbone in their come-from-behind 24-21 win at Wake Forest. The Eagles did a good job in keeping both teams in the game, with miscues setting up all 21 Demon Deacon points before winning the game in the end. Dominique Davis led the gamewinning drive for BC, but the credit for this win should go to their defense for holding Wake to under 200 yards of total offense. Other than taking advantage of the Eagle mistakes, Wake Forest did nothing on offense.
As for the Hokies, they didn't look pretty against Duke but they won the game and that's what's most important. Nine combined turnovers made this game an eyesore, but Virginia Tech did manage to rush for 187 yards on the night. Duke's longest passing play: a 23-yard pick-six by Virginia Tech's Macho Harris. The Blue Devils finished the game with twenty yards in the air and 136 yards total offense. Next weekend, the Eagles host Maryland (37-3 loser to FSU tonight) while the Hokies host rival Virginia (13-3 loser to Clemson).
6. Washington State picks up their first Pac-10 win of the season while rival Washington remains winless.
Missed field goals are what did in the Huskies in this one, with a missed 40-yarder keeping the Cougars within three in the fourth quarter and a missed chip shot in the second overtime setting the stage for Wazzu's victory. For as hard as they've played this season, Washington has found ways to lose football games and this one has to hurt considering how dominant they'd been in the trenches on both sides of the football. But give credit to Washington State, which hung around and found a way to win the Apple Cup in the end. The Huskies have one more shot at getting that elusive victory with a trip to Cal next week, but how much do they really have left in the tank? They'll be decided underdogs in Berkeley, but this much is known: they will compete. There are other teams in similar situations (tough year, coaching change, etc.) who have mailed it in but neither UDub or Wazzu has done that, And you have to give those kids and their coaches some credit (instead of pointing and laughing at their misfortune) for that even though it hasn't panned out in the form of wins.
7. Penn State headed back to the Rose Bowl. And Michigan has a lot of work to do this offseason.
The Nittany Lions were dominant from start to finish in their 49-18 victory over Michgan State, picking up the 800th win in school history at the same time. Darryl Clark, who has been criticized by some for his uneven play of late, threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover in the beating, and that defense held Javon Ringer to 42 yards on the ground. The Spartans needed QB Brian Hoyer to attempt around twenty-five passes or so to have a shot in this one, meaning that Ringer was having a productive day running the football. Hoyer threw forty passes, and he was even replaced by backup Kirk Cousins late. Penn State is a talented football team on both sides of the football, but also an example of what one bad quarter (4th quarter at Iowa) can do to your national title dreams if you're not careful.
As for the Wolverines, there really isn't much to analyze in their 42-7 pasting at the hands of Ohio State, They hung in there for a half, going into the locker room down just 14-7. But things got out of hand quickly, with Dan Herron breaking a 49-yard touchdown run less than four minutes into the second half. From there Michigan had to try their luck through the air, and Nick Sheridan isn't ready to make plays in the passing game. It got ugly, and with nine losses and an embarassing defeat to the hated Buckeyes this is an extremely important offseason for Rich Rodriguez and his staff. Regardless of the system used, that was not Michigan Football, and their fanbase will not accept anything less than marked improvement next year.
Offensive Performance of the Day: West Virginia QB Pat White. White ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns on twenty-one carrier along with 6-11 for 122 yards and two touchdowns through the air in the Mountaineers' 35-21 win at Louisville. White is now the all-time NCAA leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, passing Missouri's Brad Smith. And he also is the Big East's all-time leader in total touchdowns, passing Syracuse's Donovan McNabb.