College Football: Saturday Touchdowns
The final weekend of the regular season is just about in the books, with the one game in progress (Cincinnati @ Hawaii) being a seemingly meaningless football game. In the words of ESPN's Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friends". Turns out that two of the key competitors for slots in the BCS National Championship Game, Oklahoma and Florida, owns wins over each team. The Gators blew out Hawaii in their season opener while the Sooners took out the Big East champs a couple of weeks later in September. So, the winner of this game would stand to boost either national title contender's strength of schedule and as a result their computer ranking. But enough about possible scenarios for there were some championships decided this weekend.
1. Oklahoma makes a statement in Kansas City.
All week the Sooners had to endure talk about how it should be Texas and not them playing for the Big 12 title due to the 45-35 Longhorn victory back on October 11th. Well it was Missouri who looked like they didn't belong in Arrowhead Stadium, with the game a mere formality by halftime. The final score was Oklahoma 62-21, making it five consecutive games of sixty points or more for the Sooners. That scoring run is unprecedented in college football history, and given the eighty-five scholarship limit in today's game that stat is amazing. QB Sam Bradford threw for 383 yards and two scores, and the Sooners racked up more than 600 yards of total offense even though they lost RB DeMarco Murray to a bruised knee on the opening kickoff.
Mizzou was in trouble period, but when you compound the difference by turning the ball over three times (turnovers were a theme in conference title games in fact) you're just asking to get blown out. The natural order of things would suggest that Bob Stoops' team is in good shape to be playing in Miami on January 8th. But this is the BCS we're talking about here, so the words "natural order" really don't belong in the conversation. But they looked darn good on the national stage, making a very good final impression on the voters and computers.
2. Florida takes control of an outstanding SEC Championship Game in the 4th quarter, winning 31-20.
In what many defined as a de facto "national semifinal" the Gators fought toe-to-toe with top-ranked Alabama for three quarters before going ahead on a Jeff Demps touchdown run with nine minutes remaining in the game. While the first half was played just about even, it was a key special teams mistake late in the half that eventually led to a Gator touchdown and a 17-10 lead going into the half. Kick returner Javier Arenas, one of the best in the nation, had a mental lapse in fielding a kickoff clearly headed out of bounds, stepping out inside his own five. The Crimson Tide would punt on that drive, and Florida converted the good field position into a David Nelson touchdown reception.
Alabama dominated the third quarter in time of possession, and scored all ten points in the quarter to take a 20-17 lead into the fourth. But the Gators went right down the field in a methodical fashion that was commonplace for this game (both offenses did an outstanding job of controlling the tempo of the game) and punched it into the end zone. Time of possession was supposed to be the area where the Crimson Tide would take over in this one, but it was Florida who held the edge by about four minutes. But the clock really didn't matter much; it was all about the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. 14-22 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to fifty-seven yards on the ground for the junior quarterback.
He probably won't win the award again this year thanks in large part to the outstanding stats of Big 12 quarterbacks in the running, but if there was a draft for starting a college football team I'd have to agree with CBS analysts Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist: Tebow. It's not just his athletic ability to hurt teams in a variety of ways; his intelligence and leadership abilities are key reasons why Florida fans can wag their index fingers in the air while chanting "SEC" wherever they are tonight. The man is special. Period.
3. Speaking of turnovers: Tulsa and Ball State will spend a lot of time thinking about their miscues.
The Golden Hurricane and Cardinals, prohibitive favorites heading into their respective title games, combined to turn the ball over twelve times. So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that both went ahead and lost to East Carolina (Tulsa) and Buffalo (Ball State). On Friday night QB Nate Davis, clearly the best offensive player in the MAC throughout the season, had two fumbles (two additional fumbles on bad snaps were credited to the team) and the Bulls converted the miscues (five total turnovers) into twenty-eight points to nullify a 503-301 yardage discrepancy.
As for Tulsa, their quarterback had a tough day at the office as well. David Johnson went into the game with ECU having thrown just eight interceptions on the season. He threw five in one game, with the Pirates converting the seven total turnovers by Tulsa into 24 points. Final score: 27-24. Tulsa had the ball for over four minutes more than ECU and outgained the Pirates 399-278. But when you're a minus-6 in turnover margin you're not going to win the game. But give the Golden Hurricane credit for even staying in the game becaus emany teams would get blown out by doing such a thing in a big game. But I bet that doesn't give them much solace right now.
4. Buffalo head coach Turner Gill has pulled off one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the recent history of college football.
The season before the former Nebraska quarterback and assistant arrived at the University at Buffalo the Bulls went 1-10. In just three seasons Coach Gill and his staff have taken UB from the outhouse to the penthouse in the MAC, and it's a safe bet that his name will be mentioned in regards to the remaining (and potential) openings in BCS leagues. He's taught his players, especially the older ones who were around during the lean years, to believe in each other and the program. And look at what the Bulls have done. With a defense ranked in the nineties in total defense, they weren't given much of a shot to beat undefeated Ball State. But defensive coordinator Jimmy Williams coached a unit that was also first in the MAC with 29 forced turnovers. Buffalo led the conference in turnover margin as well, with an advantage of 1.23 turnovers per game. Their reward: a trip to nearby Toronto for the International Bowl.
5. Rutgers also pulled off quite a remarkable turnaround.
At 1-5 there wasn't much hope for the Scarlet Knights. Many people, myself included, noted that Greg Schiano's program was actually under .500 since that program defining win over Louisville a couple of seasons ago. Thursday night's 63-14 beating of Louisville gave Rutgers their seventh win of the season and punched their bowl ticket. Mike Teel, a focal point in conversations regarding what was wrong early in the year, was on his game against the Cardinals. The senior fron Oakland, NJ threw for 447 yards and seven touchdowns in leading the Scarlet Knight offense to 671 yards of total offense. It's unknown where exactly they'll be heading (teams find out for sure on Sunday night), but whichever bowl gets this team will have a squad clicking on all cylinders in their game.
6. Virginia Tech follows the familiar formula in winning their second consecutive ACC title.
The Hokies won't wow folks with their offensive firepower, but they've got a pretty good idea of what they need to do in order to win football games. Control the clock, win the turnover battle and let your defense seal the victory, which is exactly what they did in beating Boston College 30-12 in Tampa. QB Tyrod Taylor was the star on offense, rushing for two touchdowns while RB Darren Evans ran for 114 yards and another score in the win. The offensive display wasn't without it's faults, with Virginia Tech turning the ball over three times (1 INT, 2 fumbles), but that's where the defense came into play. Bud Foster's unit forced four turnovers (including an Orion Martin fumble return for a TD) and harassed freshman QB Dominique Davis for the entire game. Whoever the Hokies encounter in the FedEx Orange Bowl will have a far superior offense. But given their ability on defense and special teams, it wouldn't be wise to sell Frank Beamer's team short.
7. Arizona will have their first winning season since 1998.
The Wildcats pretty much dominated rival Arizona State in all statistical categories in the 31-10 victory, but it was a second-half burst that put the game away. The Sun Devils, winners of the last three games in this series, led 10-7 at the half despite a terrible offensive effort (162 yards for the entire game). The third quarter put this one in the win column for the Wildcats, who scored by way of the air (Delashaun Dean), ground (Nic Grigsby) and special teams (Mike Thomas punt return) in scoring twenty-one points in the stanza. Rudy Carpenter, even though he only threw one interception on the night, was harassed all evening by the Arizona defense due in large part to poor line play and a running game that has been virtually nonexistent all year long. Arizona will most likely make their first bowl appearance since 1998 (Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska) in the Las Vegas Bowl against a Mountain West foe (BYU?), but that's all for tomorrow for Mike Stoops' program. They've now got something tangible to show for the improvement of Arizona Football.
Offensive Performance of the Weekend: Rutgers QB Mike Teel. On Senior Night, Teel was 21-26 for 4447 yards and seven touchdowns. The seven scores tied a Big East record.