As the temperatures drop, the games get more heated… and nowhere saw this more true than in the Midwest, where three games with title implications found themselves coming down to the final seconds.
You read that right. The midwest- “flyover country” and “battleground states”. We’ll get to the events in Louisiana and Los Angeles in a bit, but there was a 25 minute period on Saturday that saw the eyes of college football fans tuned to the states of Indiana and Michigan.
First, the Battle in the B1G Legends Division saw either a “Sparty NO!!” moment or the referees stealing yet another game from Dantonio’s team, depending on your perspective and your proximity to LeVeon Bell. Nebraska managed a last second touchdown after two huge mental errors/penalties against the Spartans- first, Taylor Martinez was intercepted on the two yard line as the Huskers were threatening to score; the INT was taken back for an apparent score, but a personal foul well away from the play ended up costing MSU the score (they would get no points from the turnover). As Nebraska mounted a late drive for what would prove to be the go ahead score, a pass into the endzone was called Spartan interference,allowing Martinez to throw the game winner on the next play.
Not only did the win keep the Huskers in the drivers seat for their trip to Indy, but it also helped keep Michigan one game behind for that same opportunity- in spite of their “Denardless” win against Minnesota. Devan Gardner was more than adequate to beat the Gophers and maintain the Little Brown Jug for another year- as someone commented, Michigan’s QB turned WR turned QB outperformed Minnesota’s QB turned WR turned QB turned WR. Here’s hoping that TTUN’s RB masquerading as a QB doesn’t have any permanent damage to the nerves in his puntin’ arm.
After the Nebraska win, most of us clicked over to the Leaders’ game of the week, where we watched Indiana continue their storybook season… if you like storybooks where the protagonist essentially backs into something amazing out of default. In spite of James’ Vandenberg’s mom’s son having a pretty decent day, B1G coach of the year Kirk Ferentz’ team fell just short after holding a 14-10 lead at the break. IU punted back to Iowa with 18 seconds left on the clock, but the last Hawkeyes plays were not able to get the job done, given that the “interesting” B1G refs were in East Lansing this week. And so, should the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin this week (in what’s sure to be a trap game), they are headed to Indianapolis for a chance to play for all the Roses.
At this point, most of America was looking to kill time before the Alabama/LSU game kicked off, only to have their friends text them that the Pitt/Notre Dame game was headed to overtime. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Panthers held a 20-6 lead; when that scrolled across the ticker, I commented to my wife that Notre Dame would win, since the game was being played in South Bend. The Irish scored 17 points in the final period, and we headed to overtime.
After exchanging field goals, Notre Dame’s Cierre Wood fumbled on his way into the end zone and Pitt recovered. And, this time the officials made the right call and gave Pitt the ball. The Panthers chose to run three straight plays to set up the field goal, but on third down chose not to center the ball on the field of play. You can guess what happened next- the field go was wide right; kicked from the right hash, it never wavered from it’s initial trajectory. It was, unless you’re Brian Kelly, an exciting moment.
Ah, but we can’t have “the luck of the Irish” without a little controversy; this one emerging after the fact. On the missed field goal, Notre Dame had two players on the field with the same number, which should have resulted in Pitt having an automatic first down. It’s not as if the officials might have seen this before, or that Notre Dame might have been aware that they should address this issue… nonetheless, a Pitt Field Goal led to a Notre Dame touchdown and the undefeated season continued.
There are a lot of folks who are comparing this year’s Irish season to the 2002 Ohio State champions… good enough offense, but an outstanding defense and a little luck from a resurgent program. Here’s the problem with that analogy… it doesn’t take into account the obnoxiousness that Irish fans bring due to their perceived “special” place in the “annals of college football history”. For a point of reference, this week’s offering by MSPaint maestro ThuJone might help clarify the issue just a bit… warning, most of his stuff is hilariously not safe for work.
A quick follow up to Wednesday’s festivities- seems several schools chose to hold off on their costumes until this weekend. Oregon (more later) violated a number of fashion rules by choosing to wear white after labor day. For some reason, Mississippi State did the same, choosing to call Saturday the “Snow Bowl”. The game was made all the more interesting by Texas A&M’s decision to wear all black; as the Aggies spent most of the day driving up and down the field on the Bulldogs, the image of a bunch of guys from Mississippi dressed in white chasing a player in black was… well… unfortunate. The “winner” of this week’s fashion foibles was the reigning champion Maryland Terrapins; their newest “back in black” look was Ok, as it were… but the shoes were just terrible. These cleats certainly make their recent roster problems understandable- Wouldn’t you want to get injured to avoid wearing that?
Although, to be fair, it’s not like anyone would have seen them. In our “Who’s ready for basketball?” segment this week, Maryland’s ‘fans’ definitely show that there’s a lot of work to do in public relations for the program. As you can see on the right, Purdue’s Boilermakers have a similar mindset- it seems that, following the Ohio State game, they’ve packed up their tents for the season.
Kentucky, too… although, given the money being spent on the other program in town it totally makes sense for their fans to respond in kind. Which is what makes Big Blue’s decision to fire their coach this weekend so interesting- it’s not that Joker Phillips hasn’t made some strides amidst the trouble his team has had on the field, it’s that it seems as if whoever goes into Lexington will be swimming upstream with an anchor tied around their waist. Consider the money issue mentioned above, the fact is that the rest of the SEC has chosen to spend their funds on
church renovations coaching staffs and football upgrades, while allowing the WildKats to have their fun on the hardwood. And, given that there are plans and hopes to expand on Kentucky’s football stadium in the near future (as acknowledged in the termination announcement), you’ve got to wonder how much of Phillip’s firing has to do with a desire to raise money for future growth in addition to the struggles that the ‘Kats have had in what’s arguably the best football conference in the nation. As someone who’s met and worked with Coach Phillips, I can’t help but wish him the best, and I’m confident that he’ll land on his feet.
It is interesting to note, as an aside, that the three major football programs in Kentucky are this season all led by African American head coaches, and that the SEC has three coaches of African descent, while the northern B1G has zero.
Another coach who might not be long for the SEC found his team on the winning side of history for a change, as Tennessee managed to win in spite of giving up 48 points to Troy (says the guy who’s forgotten the Indiana game). Derek Dooley has got to be incredibly wary of any phone calls from his AD over the next few weeks- there are already attempts on the campus to find him a new opportunity to work, while the interwebs have also recommended possible landing places for the Vols head man. Auburn’s Gene Chizik managed to get another win under his belt this weekend as well- this one at the expense of the New Mexico State team that only has one win this season. Proud.
Kudos as well to Coach Mack Brown, who managed to lead Texas to somewhat of an upset against rival Tech, in spite of their fancy uniforms. The Longhorns managed over 400 yards on the ground against Tommy Tuberville’s team, and won just enough to quiet some of the calls for Brown’s job… at least for now.
Before we get to the marquee games of Saturday night, here’s your “Hit of the week”- I was tempted to go with KSU’s mock take down of a Cowboy during Saturday’s win, but instead I decided for some well delivered MACtion from Thursday night’s matchup of two of Brady Hoke’s favorite schools:
So- let’s talk a little bit about the battle in Los Angeles, where Southern Cal scored fifty one points and still lost by double digits. While Oregon’s “Black Mamba” has gotten much of the publicity this season, it was running back Kenjon Barner’s 5 touchdowns and 321 yards that carried the day for the Ducks. Matt Barkley and the Trojans put up a valiant effort, but their inability to match scores in the first quarter put them in a hole that they were unable to work their way out of. There was a lot of conversation online after the game regarding the failures that the Trojans have had, and more than a few frustrated fans asking if it’s not time for a coaching change- three losses for a team that was expected to win the crystal hardware makes anyone second guess the program’s direction. From my perspective, though, this has just as much to do with the depth issues that Southern Cal will be dealing with for the next year or so- short of their offensive playmakers, you just don’t see anyone stepping up to make a difference when it’s necessary.
That being said, though, we can finally put to rest the idea that Oregon has discovered a defensive philosophy other than just “all we need is one stop”. There were numerous huge plays for Southern Cal; Oregon, like a certain scarlet and gray team earlier this season, seems to live and die by explosive scoring. At this point, though, they haven’t been outscored… and that’s a good thing.
Also out west- UCLA obliterated Rich Rodriguez and the #22 Arizona Wildcats, due, I’m sure, to the “Warrior Spirit” that their team and coaching staff have exemplified at home this season. Stanford embarrassed Colorado, Utah did the same to Wazzoo, and Washington helped keep the fire toasty under Jeff Tedford’s seat in Berkley.
We talked about Maryland, but the rest of the circle of suck that is the ACC broke down as follows- Virginia beat NC State, Miami defeated Virginia Tech, and Duke was not enough for Clemson’s Tahj Boyd, who tossed five TDs in the victory.
Louisville remained undefeated, beating Temple; Cincinnati managed to hold off Syracuse, and South Florida and Connecticut met in a game so boring I’m not even going to bother looking up the score.
America’s favorite three letter spelling bee had the game of the week, but in addition to Tennessee and Auburn’s victories over hapless opponents and Vanderbilt ending Joker’s career, there was another matchup that seems to have slipped under the radar. Florida, at home, beat Missouri by one touchdown, and needed an interception in the end zone as time was running out to manage the win. Again, that Missouri, whose only SEC win is against Kentucky. When these games happen, it’s an SEC shootout- when Purdue pushes Ohio State to the limit, it’s because the conference sucks.
Mississippi lost to Georgia, which made this amazing cheerleader really really happy. Arkansas held off Tulsa. Whoo.
In case you hadn’t heard, the national championship game was held on Saturday, with the third meeting of the Oversigning Bowl between LSU and Alabama. Candidly? It didn’t disappoint, although I was flipping between the defensive slugfest in Baton Rouge and the gasoline fire in the LA Coliseum and was wondering if these two games were actually the same sport. Alabama’s defense performed admirably, although LSU’s “Mad Hatter” was unable to connect on both a fake field goal and an onside kick opportunity. You know how this ended- LSU took a lead late in the fourth quarter, then decided to go away from the defensive stance that had contained Alabama’s passing for most of the game. As a result, the Tide were able to drive down the field with sideline pass after sideline pass, leading to the final score coming on a long screen pass to the next in the line of Alabama’s amazing running backs.
Granted, it was an amazing game, but there are already folks who are clamoring for some sort of rematch this season. The good news? With LSU having two losses, it’s less than likely although stranger things have happened in the past.
If it were me I’d stick with the matchups we discussed last week- Oregon hosting KSU, Alabama hosting Notre Dame, and the winners playing in the middle of the country for the title game. But, it’s not up to me… it’s up to the BCS, which uses such great resources as the computer that has four SEC teams ranked over Oregon. So… yeah.
Our Buckeyes are on a bye, but there’s still important games to watch this week: Indiana and Wisconsin play for the Division Title, while Penn State will travel to Lincoln for the first trip since the Huskers joined the B1G. Northwestern goes to Ann Arbor ranked higher than the Wolverines… who would have guessed that at the beginning of the season? Catholic fight in Boston, where the Eagles host the Irish. Big games in terms of national significance include Alabama hosting the offensive firepower of Texas A&M, and Stanford welcoming Oregon State into Palo Alto.
We haven’t talked about small schools much this season, but this week is one of the biggest D3 rivalries in the country as DePauw travels to Wabash for the 119th meeting of the Monon Bell game. This year’s Tigers team comes in a bit off their usual game, holding a 2-9 record at this point; the Little Giants (seriously) are 7-2, and just barely missed the national playoffs following their loss to Oberlin last weekend. If you’re in Indiana on Saturday, there’s seriously no better place to watch college football… it’s a game that will have a ton of meeting.
Finally- there’s no way that you’ve missed it, but Tuesday is Election Day. Do your civic duty and get out an vote for the candidate(s) and propositions of your choice. If you don’t, then there’s no way that the commercials and robocalls will stop. So, for the love of all that’s holy… VOTE!