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Week 14: Wrappin’ Up

With college football’s regular season complete, the bowl lineups are set.  In this final installment of Pac-12 Football Weekly, I scrutinize each team in the conference, assigning grades based on performance and preseason expectation. 

I. Conference Victors: National

The 14th week of the regular season has become a de facto championship week.  For six conferences, their final matchup pits the top teams from each division, often with direct BCS ramifications.  For conferences with fewer than 12 teams, Week 14 nevertheless includes games that dictate who emerges as champ.  Let’s take a look at what happened around the nation.

Louisville 20, Rutgers 17: the clouded Big East became even cloudier with Louisville’s come-from-behind road win in New Jersey.  Rutgers, leading 14-3 at half and with its destiny in its own hands, could not finish the deal and was unable to win its first outright conference title.  Coupled with Cincinnati’s 34-17 win over Connecticut, four — count ’em, four — teams finished 5-2 in conference play.  Louisville, however, finishes the season 10-2 and therefore earns its first Sugar Bowl bid.

Northern Illinois 44, Kent State 37 (OT): wait a minute.  I can understand one MAC team ranked in the top 20, but TWO?  Yes indeed: both teams entered the conference title game at 11-1 and with a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl thanks to Louisville’s low ranking.  (Long story short: under BCS rules, if a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference finishes at #16 or higher, and is ahead of a team from an automatic qualifying conference that receives a BCS bowl bid, the non-AQ team receives a BCS bowl bid.)  The “MACtion” was as exciting as its somewhat silly name.  Kent State trailed 27-13 in the fourth quarter before scoring 14 points in 15 seconds to tie the game.  NIU responded with a touchdown of their own, but the Golden Flashes (yes, that’s their mascot) scored again with 44 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.  In the extra period, the Huskies scored; the Flashes could not; victory to NIU — and an Orange Bowl to boot.  Not a bad day for a directional school.

Baylor 41, Oklahoma State 34: what a turnaround for the Bears.  Staring at 4-5 and needing to win out to ensure a bowl bid, Baylor did just that, stunning #1 Kansas State at home, coming from behind to defeat Texas Tech on the road, and forging an early 21-point lead to hold off Oklahoma State by a touchdown in the season finale.  Baylor next faces UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, and the Bruins better be ready to play, because Baylor is on fire at the moment.

Oklahoma 24, TCU 17: in what was basically an even game, the Sooners made one more big play than the Horned Frogs, and finished the Big 12 schedule 8-1 to claim a share of the conference title.  Oklahoma’s overall mark of 10-2 lands them in the Cotton Bowl against former conference foe Texas A&M in what figures to be a whale of a ballgame.

Kansas State 42, Texas 24: the Longhorns kept it close for three quarters before the wheels fell off.  With the win, the Wildcats move to 11-1, and by virtue of their head-to-head win over Oklahoma, they earn the conference’s BCS bid — in this case, an intriguing showdown with Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.  I would also like to point out that the Big 12 might be the strongest top-to-bottom conference in the country.  Of the conference’s ten teams, EIGHT finished with winning records, and NINE (!) are playing in bowl games.  Astounding.

Tulsa 33, UCF 27 (OT): Tulsa won the “Golden Bowl” in thrillingly bizarre fashion.  The play of the game featured one of the strangest punt return touchdowns you’ll ever see:

Having tied the score, the Golden Hurricane then scored the would-be winning touchdown in overtime, until it was overturned on replay — only to score on the next play.  Central Florida thus endures an exasperating loss in their final Conference USA game.  On the plus side, the Golden Knights depart irrelevant C-USA for the still relevant Big East next season.

Oregon State 77, Nicholls State 3: evidently someone failed to get the message to Nicholls State that you do NOT want to play the Beavers after they have just lost to their in-state rival.  Did a September hurricane prevent you from playing earlier in the season?  No excuses!  The 77 points scored by Oregon State are a school record, and a great way to get the sour taste out of their mouths from the loss to Oregon.  The Beavs are headed to the Alamo Bowl for a tilt with Texas.

Arkansas State 45, Middle Tennessee 0: although not an official conference championship game, this contest pitted the top two teams in the Sun Belt, so it functioned as one.  Did Middle Tennessee get on the bus late, or was A-State simply a better team?  I vote for the latter.  Arkansas State had no fumbles, no interceptions, only one penalty, only two incompletions, went 11-14 on 3rd and 4th down, and had over 2 1/2 times the yardage of their opponent.  That, folks, is what you call a near-perfect game.  No wonder Gus Malzahn was plucked by Auburn to be their new head coach.

QUICK: what is the only team in college football to have won 10 or more games every year for the past seven seasons?

If you said Boise State, YOU WIN!  The Broncos exacted a measure of revenge by defeating Nevada 27-21 on the road.  The last time Boise State played in Reno, the Wolfpack ended their national championship dreams by overcoming a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to win, 34-31, in overtime.  In an eerily similar plot, the Smurf Turfers were ahead 24-7 entering the final quarter, and once again, Nevada made it interesting — only to fall short when a receiver fumbled en route to the end zone, resulting in a touchback.  With the win, Boise State shares the Mountain West title with Fresno State and San Diego State, and heads back to Las Vegas for a showdown with Washington.

Florida State 21, Georgia Tech 15: the Seminoles win the ACC.  That’s almost like winning first prize at the Armenian raffle, which earns you a one week trip to Armenia (second prize would have been a two week trip to Armenia).  Their reward is an Orange Bowl matchup with, um, Northern Illinois.  Anyone wondering if there will be tickets available for that game?

Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31: in the immortal words of Noah Kaloostian: “You stink, Nebraska.”

I watched this entire game — for the Big Ten championship, and an automatic berth in the Rose Bowl, no less — and Nebraska’s defense wouldn’t have been able to stop me, even if they knew where I was going.  The Badgers racked up a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry for the game — and that was not after 10 or 20 rushes, but 50!  The score was 63-17 after three quarters, and had Wisconsin not let up a bit in the 4th quarter, it would have been even worse.  Nebraska’s appalling effort has to make you wonder what in the world they were thinking.  Who prepared this team?  What was their mindset?  Where was the fight in the second half?  Pathetic.  Goodbye Nebraska defensive coordinator, whoever you are.

On the flip side, Wisconsin’s emphatic win sets up what appeared to be a very interesting clash with Stanford (more on them below) in Pasadena.  That was until Bret Bielema stunned everyone by leaving the Badgers for Arkansas shortly after the win.  Talk about upstaging the accomplishment of your team: Wisconsin had just won its third consecutive Big Ten title and earned its third straight Rose Bowl invitation — only to lose the coach that got them there!  All the air had gone out of their balloon.  So much for momentum heading into the Granddaddy.  Right?

Not so fast.  Enter Barry Alvarez, Whiskey’s Knight in Shining Armor.  Alvarez took the Badgers to three Rose Bowls in the 1990’s, winning all three — the last against Stanford following the 1999 season.  After retiring from coaching, he took over as athletic director.  Upon learning of Bielema’s departure — a punch in the gut for the Big Ten, which lost arguably its best coach to a middling SEC program — Alvarez upstaged the upstager, declaring that he would come out of retirement for one game to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl.

Imagine for a moment the emotions of the Wisconsin players.  First, they destroy favored Nebraska in the championship game.  Celebrations galore.  Then, they lose their coach.  Their victory seems Pyrrhic; their heads sag, their shoulders slump.  Suddenly, out of the doldrums, they are awakened by the news that a legend has come back to lead them to Pasadena.

When you are raised from the depths of despair, you will do anything for the person that lifted you up.  I’ll say it right now: there is no way Stanford will be able to match Wisconsin’s emotion on January 1.  If the Cardinal want to win, they are going to have to do so with precise execution, because they are not going to out-will the Badgers in that game.

The Rose Bowl just got very interesting.

Alabama 32, Georgia 28: of the numerous excellent games played in Week 14, this one might have been the best.  #2 Alabama was playing for a shot at its third national championship in four seasons and the right to go down as one of the best teams in history over a four-year span.  #3 Georgia was fighting for its first national championship berth since it won the title in 1980 behind legendary running back Herschel Walker.

This game was a war.  The Dawgs pulled ahead 21-10 in the third quarter after returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown.  Alabama, however, hunkered down in the run game, pounding to a 25-21 advantage before Georgia retook the lead 28-25 midway through the fourth quarter.  With the SEC title in the balance, AJ McCarron play faked at just the right time and threw a perfect strike to Amari Cooper with just over three minutes to play.  Down 32-28, Georgia’s next drive stalled, and when they had to punt it looked like it was all over but the shouting.

It wasn’t.  The Bulldogs forced an Alabama punt, and despite having no timeouts, they got the ball back with just over a minute to play.  They had 85 yards to go.  Could they do it?  Completion…rush for first down…and then three straight completions for 15, 23, and 26 yards.  Holy cow!  Georgia had it on the Alabama 8 yard line with 15 seconds to play, first and goal!  And then…

Instead of spiking the ball to collect themselves and set up 2-3 plays for the end zone, Georgia allowed the clock to tick down to 9 seconds.  That’s when this happened (watch from 15 seconds in to 45 seconds):

What a painful way to lose.

With the Houdini, Alabama escapes to the national title game against Notre Dame, while Georgia is left to ponder what could have been against Nebraska in the Capital One bowl.

II (a). Stanford vs. UCLA for the Roses: Summary

The majority of that headline is in red, so you know who won the game.  If you’re still reading, it’s because you want my take on the game, and you are wise to seek this, as I was there.

Sometimes things just don’t add up.  If you had told me before this game that UCLA would rush for 284 yards, I would have told you unequivocally that the Bruins would win — and that it wouldn’t have been close.  If you had then told me that Stanford would be held to under four yards per carry and under seven yards per pass attempt, I would have laughed and said the game would have been a blowout.

UCLA did rush for 284 yards; Stanford was stymied on offense; UCLA controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball; the Bruins dominated the game.

And yet…the Cardinal won, 27-24.

For those who watched the game, you know why.  UCLA may have been the more dominant team, but Stanford caught pretty much every break they needed to eke out the win:

  • UCLA committed only one turnover, but it turned the momentum of the game.  With the Bruins up 14-7 and driving for a two score lead, Hundley finally made a freshman mistake, underthrowing 6-7 tight end Joe Fauria and not accounting for Ed Reynolds, who intercepted the ball and ran it back 80 yards for what should have been a touchdown (Stanford got it at the one and scored on the next play).
  • Stanford kicked a crucial field goal on a late drive before halftime.  This had the deflating psychological effect of sending UCLA into the locker room trailing 17-14 despite having outplayed Stanford in the first half.
  • UCLA’s kickoff return game was awful.  Stanford turned UCLA’s poor field position to advantage, thereby gaining “hidden” yards that do not show up in the stat sheet.
  • QB Kevin Hogan completed the one big throw he had to make, coinciding with UCLA’s lone defensive breakdown.  With the Bruins up 24-17 in the fourth quarter and having all the momentum, Hogan stood in the pocket as long as possible.  Despite rushing just three linemen, UCLA failed to cover Drew Terrell, who got just enough behind the defense to catch a perfectly thrown 26-yard touchdown pass.  This mistake is hard to understand, particularly on 3rd and 15.  Without that conversion, Stanford probably does not win the game.  Finally:
  • The Bruins missed the final kick to tie the game.  Wet conditions, a poor snap, and a long range effort combined to sink Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 52-yard attempt.

Simply put: Stanford made the plays it needed to make — ALL the plays it needed to make — to win.

II (b). Stanford vs. UCLA for the Roses: Commentary

This is a disappointing loss for the Bruins because they had their way with Stanford, but credit must be given to the Cardinal for sticking to their game plan and executing it flawlessly.  Any major mistake for Stanford would have put UCLA on top.  Stanford made none: no fumbles, no interceptions, no errors in the kicking game, excellent punts, and only five penalties.  Kevin Hogan’s performance was a near-exact repeat of his deadly accurate play vs. the Bruins in the first game.  The comparison is startling:

  • In Game 1, he went 15 for 22 for 160 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
  • In Game 2, he went 16 for 22 for 155 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Furthermore, he scored a touchdown in the second game and picked up critical yardage in third down situations with his legs.  He was rightly honored as the game’s MVP, upstaging an outstanding performance by Johnathan Franklin for the Bruins.  With the win, Stanford punches its ticket to a third consecutive BCS bowl, defeats UCLA for the fifth consecutive time, and garners its third consecutive 11-win season.

Did I just write that?  This is STANFORD, a team that was 1-11 in 2006.  Brainy, high academic standard STANFORD, which had only seven winning records in the previous 26 seasons before Jim Harbaugh’s arrival.  How is it that Stanford has won 34 games in the past three seasons?  How is it that Stanford has defeated four straight ranked teams to finish the season — with a second string quarterback?

Given how well UCLA played in this game, you would think I would be bitter and perhaps even churlish towards the Cardinal, but there is nothing I can say.  When all is said and done, Stanford defeated Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, and UCLA again (not to mention USC) to capture the conference championship.  In other words, they earned it.  To make matters worse, Stanford didn’t even give me the opportunity to dislike their individual players.  After the game, I watched interviews of Stepfan Taylor, Kevin Hogan, Ed Reynolds, and various other Cardinal players.  To a man, each was respectful, well spoken, mature; each deflected individual praise to the team and the coaches.  It was infuriatingly wonderful.  For many teams (and especially individual players), graciousness in victory is not part of their vocabulary, but Stanford knows no other way.  Thus, I can’t dislike this team, even when I want to.

Having said that, I have every reason to be disgusted with the uber-homer Bay Area sportscasters that covered the game afterwards.  After listing all the great things that Stanford did in the game, they used their 20-20 hindsight to suggest that despite UCLA throwing its best punch, Stanford was somehow “destined” to win.  I was particularly vexed by one commentator’s suggestion that while Stanford knew they were going to win toward the end of the game, UCLA only hoped they were going to win.  That really burned me up.  My response to that imbecile is the following series of questions:

  • Did Stanford know they were going to win when they couldn’t finish the deal at Notre Dame?
  • Did Stanford know they were going to win when they failed to finish the game at Washington?
  • Did Stanford know they would be given a touchdown on an overturned replay in the Oregon game to tie the score late?
  • Did Stanford know Oregon’s kicker would hit the upright in overtime and miss his field goal try?
  • Did UCLA hope they were going to win when they trailed 43-42 at Arizona State with under two minutes to play, only to see Hundley drive down the field with ice in his veins to lead UCLA to the victory?
  • Did UCLA, leading 31-28, hope to win when USC had taken all the momentum in the 4th quarter, only to watch the Bruins rise to the occasion and convert a clutch third down leading to the game clinching touchdown?
  • Did UCLA hope to defeat Stanford by dominating the game on both sides of the ball?
  • Did Stanford know their field goal kicker would make both of his kicks in this game, and know that UCLA would miss one of its two?

I am happy to admit that Stanford played a virtually perfect game and overcame UCLA’s near-best effort, but to say that the Bruins were only “hoping” to win this game at the end is ludicrous.  I watched the reaction of UCLA’s players after the field goal was wide left.  That wasn’t resignation, nor was it dejection.  It was anger.  The players knew they had dominated the game, and they expected to win.  When you’re only “hoping” to win and you don’t, you’re disappointed.  When you expect to win and you outplay your opponent but still lose, you’re angry.

Mr. Bay Area sportscaster, I’m angry.  Sing the praises of Stanford all you like, but when it comes to UCLA, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then shut the hell up.

III (a). Grading the Pac: Final Report Card

With the regular season and championship game concluded, it is time for me to dish out reports for each team in the conference.  This should be entertaining.  I like saving the best for last, so I’ll get the worst performers out of the way first.

Colorado (1-11): No.  Just, no.  I knew they weren’t going to be good this season, but I had no idea they were going to be this bad.

  • Key game: none.  Just, none.
  • GradeF.

Cal (3-9): Yikes.  Your return to Memorial Stadium results in the worst season in over a decade?  Granted, Jeff Tedford did turn your program from a 1-11 doormat (2001) to a contender for a while, but with so many returning players, it is hard to understand such poor results this season.

  • Key game: the opening loss, at home, to Nevada. That set the Bears on the wrong path for the entire season, and they never really recovered — similar to what happened to Oregon State last year, when they were upended at home by Sacramento State to open the season.
  • Grade: F.

USC (7-5): well, the Trojans did win seven games, but none against teams that finished with eight wins or higher.  When you’re the preseason #1, two losses is considered a disappointment, but five?  That’s a disaster.  With all the talent at USC’s disposal, there is no way they should have so many losses — their head coach said as much after the Notre Dame game.

  • Key game: although the Stanford loss was a harbinger of the problems the team would face all year (lackluster play, poor offensive balance, lack of passion), it was the Arizona loss that derailed USC more than any other.  Leading 28-13 late in the third quarter, USC completely fell apart on offense and defense for over a quarter, getting outscored 26-0 in 16 minutes, and not recovering in time to salvage the game.  The season spiraled out of control after that, and SC ended up losing four of its last five games.
  • Grade: it’s not often that a seven win team receives this grade, but it’s also not often that you’re ranked #1 before the season starts and finish with five losses.  F.

Stupid Washington State (3-9): yes, I’m giving the Cougars that annoying light silver font.  Why?  Because they deserve not to be recognized, and because they didn’t really do anything worthy of notice.  This was a team that was challenging for a bowl game last season.  This year, so many games were duds that it is hard to take anything positive from this team, save for the miraculous comeback victory over Washington in the Apple Cup to end the season.  Then again, that was only Washington.

  • Key Game: losing at home to Colorado.  Yes, COLORADO.  It doesn’t matter how you lost, or that you had a big lead entering the fourth quarter.  The bottom line is that you lost.  To Colorado.  At home.
  • Grade: D.  And that’s generous.

Washington (7-5): at a party the other night, I ran into an old, er, acquaintance that had the reliably irritating habit of taking FOREVER to make up her mind, even on picayune decisions.  UW was that team this season.  “Let’s see: do we want to be good this week, or not good?  Do we want to play well, or terribly?  Do we want to cobble together an unexpected win over Stanford, or lose by 35 points to Arizona (or by 3 to SWSU to end the season)?”  Last time I checked, the Huskies were still asking questions to themselves.  Out loud.

  • Key Game: who knows?  The Huskies won two very flukey games at home over Stanford (before the Cardinal realized that their best QB was on the bench) and Oregon State (the week the Beavers’ starting QB returned from an injury — and wasn’t ready).  They won against three other sub-.500 conference teams, plus one FCS school.  The losses…yikes.  Three big blowouts, and then the season-ending collapse at Washington State.  I don’t think there was one “key” game this season; UW is the girl who always teases, but never pleases.
  • Grade: I don’t like girls like that.  D+.

Utah (5-7): it was a difficult season for the Utes, but in retrospect, that has to be expected given how depleted they were on offense (injuries to QB’s and running backs left them scrambling for production).  Utah was a respectable 4-2 at home, but could muster only one win in six chances on the road.  Next year, though, should be better.

  • Key Game: not so much a key game, as a key injury — or set of injuries, as mentioned above.  If one game must be pinpointed, it would be the 34-15 loss at Washington, which made a bowl bid very difficult; the ensuing home loss at Arizona ended all postseason hopes.
  • Grade: C.

Arizona (7-5): the Wildcats were actually very close to a 10-win season in RichRod’s first year.  How close?  They had double-digit leads against Stanford and Arizona State in the fourth quarter, and were ahead of Oregon State with under two minutes to play — but lost all three of those games.  Yes, they did lose in blowout fashion to Oregon (but were actually in that game until late in the third quarter) and to UCLA (they were not in that game at all), but other than that, U of A was competitive the entire year.  There is reason for optimism in Tucson.

  • Key Game: the win over USC.  After the difficult losses described above, the Wildcats turned the tables at the expense of the Trojans, overcoming a 15-point deficit to move to 5-3 and an eventual bowl game.
  • Grade: B.

Arizona State (7-5): this time, the Sun Devils finished off the year on a positive note.  After starting off 5-1 against weak competition, ASU hit a rough patch with consecutive losses to powerhouses Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, and USC.  But they never lost hope, and with two wins to end the season, the Devils can travel to San Francisco with a good taste in their mouths for the Fight Hunger Bowl.

  • Key Game: the thrashing of WSU (46-7) to get them to 6-5, followed by the season ending thriller over Arizona to secure a winning season.
  • Grade: B+.

Oregon (11-1): no, I do not apologize for the loud highlighting of Oregon’s name.  They don’t apologize for their uniforms, so why should I?

Yes, the Ducks won 11 games.  Yes, the Ducks are impressive.  Yes, they beat USC on the road by 11, and in their other victories, won each game by 17 points or more.  But then there’s Stanford.

  • Key Game: Stanford.  Oregon lost.  At home.  To Stanford.  Goodbye national championship.
  • Grade: B+.  Sorry, but when you’re this good, you should win every game.  And certainly not lose to Stanford.  At home.  To Stanford.

UCLA (9-4): No one — myself included — envisioned UCLA winning the Pac-12 South before the season started.  Everyone — myself included — had USC pegged as the champion.  Everyone — other than UCLA’s team — was wrong.  With a stirring early victory over Nebraska and an epic streak-breaking win over USC, this was a great season to be a Bruin.  The second Stanford loss (and only the second, mind you) does hurt, but does not change the fact that UCLA had an outstanding season that far surpassed expectations.  That hasn’t been the case in Westwood for a long time.

  • Key Game: although the win over Nebraska was an early indication of UCLA’s potential, and although the win over USC will be the highlight of the season, the most important game was unquestionably the win over Arizona State.  Both teams entered that contest 5-2, and were on the rise; the winner would really be on the ascendance.  It was an even matchup all the way that came down to the final kick.  UCLA made it, and rode that victory to a five-game winning streak and division title.
  • Grade: A.  The only thing separating this team from an A+ was the final game against Stanford, in which the Bruins came up just short.  The bowl game against Baylor will be critical for momentum, as the Bruins do not want to end this excellent season with a three game losing streak.

Oregon State (9-3): if I had voted for conference Coach of the Year honors, I would have put Mike Riley #1, followed by David Shaw and Jim Mora Jr. (not sure of the order of the last two).  Oregon State went 3-9 last year.  The Beaver brass had the foresight to allow Riley to keep his job, and it paid off in spades.  Oregon State played many freshmen last season, and they came of age in 2012 with huge wins over Wisconsin, UCLA, Arizona, and BYU — the last three on the road — before suffering two mid-season flukey losses at Washington and Stanford.  The Beavers outplayed every opponent they faced save for Oregon, and that includes the two losses just mentioned.  This team should have been 11-1, but 9-3 is still excellent.  I keep on saying it, and I’m going to keep on saying it until someone agrees with me: no one gets more out of less than Mike Riley in Corvallis.

  • Key Game: the first game of the season!  Not only did Oregon State defeat the two-time defending Big Ten champion Badgers, they dominated the game, holding Wisconsin to a preposterous 35 yards on 23 carries, and knocking Heisman hopeful Montee Ball out of the race before the season had even begun.  With the win, the Beavers signaled that they had left last season’s disappointment behind, and would be a new team in 2012.  And so they were.
  • Grade: A.  If you want to give them an A+, you’ll get no argument from me.

Stanford (11-2): do I have to?

Yes, I have to.

Stanford could have lost to San Jose State — but they didn’t.  Stanford could have lost to USC (and likely would have if Kiffin had kicked a field goal when ahead 14-7), but they didn’t.  They probably should have lost to Arizona (who led by 14 in the fourth quarter), but they didn’t.  They could have lost to Washington State (who never should have been in the game), but they didn’t.  They absolutely should have lost to Oregon State (who dominated the game but gave it away with a late fumble), but they didn’t.  They certainly could have lost to Oregon (and needed a reversal on a replay to score the tying touchdown, plus the missed field goal mentioned earlier), but somehow they didn’t.  And, as detailed above, they were outplayed by UCLA in the conference title game, and certainly could have lost — but they didn’t.

What I’m trying to say here is that Stanford knows how to win close games.  Yes, they finished 11-2, but it is not out of the realm of possibility to say that they could have finished 4-8.  This is not a dominant team, but it is a smart, disciplined team that will not beat itself.  To beat Stanford, you have to play smart enough to win; if you don’t, you won’t.

So what does that mean in terms of my overall opinion?  I’m flabbergasted and flummoxed, and any other funky “f” adjective you can think of (Stanford leaves you scratching your head after games).  The aforementioned homer commentators had the temerity to suggest that Stanford was a national championship caliber team this season.  Sorry, I ain’t buyin’ that.  Stanford outperformed this season, yes, and they deserve huge credit for the Oregon upset.  But national championship caliber?  No.

Nevertheless, I must give the grade they have earned, so here we go:

  • Key Game: all the ones I mentioned above.  Had Stanford lost any of them, they would not be headed to a BCS bowl, let alone the Rose Bowl as conference champions.  EVERY game counted.
  • Grade: A.  No A+.  Even Stanford students don’t get perfect scores.

III (b). Grading the Pac: Final Power Rankings

  1. Oregon.  Yes, I know Stanford won the conference, but this is the strongest team.  I would far rather play Stanford than Oregon.  Why do you think I was happy after UCLA lost to Stanford the first time?
  2. Stanford.  Part of me thinks Oregon State is actually a better team, but Stanford won the head-to-head matchup, albeit thanks to an error by Oregon State.
  3. Oregon State.  Yes, I have a man-crush on this team, and have for probably three decades.  Oregon State was the LA Clippers of the Pac-10 for so many years that I still find it hard to believe they are competitive now.  Go Beavs!
  4. UCLA.  The Bruins were EITHER a non-interception OR a non-botched defensive assignment OR a non-missed field goal away from a Pac-12 title in their first season under Mora.  That’s pretty darn good.
  5. Arizona.  On talent alone, USC gets the nod here, but the Wildcats won the head-to-head, so they get the 5 spot.
  6. USC.  Kiffin better improve dramatically next season, or he’s gone.  This year was horrific.
  7. Arizona State.  Normally, finishing 7th in your conference power poll doesn’t make you feel too great, but this year is an exception.  The Sun Devils are on the rise, and could be a force in the South next season.
  8. Washington.  I almost put Utah here, but they lost miserably at UW, so the Huskies get this spot.  I remain as unimpressed with the Huskies as I am impressed with Oregon State.
  9. Utah.  A rough season, but there is reason for optimism next year, when Utah will be more experienced (and hopefully much healthier).
  10. SWSU.  This dumb team should have been ranked 11th, but found a way to defeat Washington and make it seem like the season wasn’t a total loss.  We’ll see if Leach gets his team better in Year 2.
  11. Dumb Cal.  Did they EVER play down to their moniker.  Ghastly.
  12. Colorado.  Still: no.  Just no.

IV. Final Comments: Thanks!

When I mentioned that this was the final installment of Pac-12 Football Weekly, some of you may have thought it was the final blog post of the season.  In fact, it will be my final blog post, period.

To my legions of loyal readers (that’s all 10-12 of you), thank you for enduring my rants and raves (and occasional praises) throughout this highly entertaining football season.  I had never anticipated writing a blog, but after being encouraged doggedly by friends and family alike, I finally broke down and gave it a whirl.  Here is what I learned:

  • You were right: I am good at this.  Writing comes naturally, and I love making it entertaining.
  • I am glad I did it once.
  • I am glad I am not doing it more than once.

The last point requires an explanation, but it is simple enough.  When I embark on a project, I insist that it be first rate: either I do it full throttle, or I don’t do it at all.  So it was when I began my first post back in September.  I was committed to doing the requisite research and TV watching to write intelligently on the subject.  Although I have enjoyed the project immensely, I didn’t realize it would take this much time: a typical post requires somewhere between 6-12 hours of preparation and writing, and that doesn’t include game viewing.  If I conservatively estimate that it takes an average of 8 hours per week to put together a blog post, that’s 14 x 8 = 112 hours that I’ve invested for this endeavor.

If I were retired, I might be jumping for joy that I could find such a fun pursuit to spend my leisure time.  But I’m teaching like a madman this year (252 students per week in math alone!), and putting in this many hours during the beginning of the school year simply isn’t prudent.

Furthermore, such a project requires me to spend even more time at the computer than I already do.  As Noah once told me, it is important for him to “maintain his girlish figure.”  Therefore, until I look more like Shane or Cousin Adam, I should heed Noah’s advice and find ways to get off the computer, not stay on it longer.

That being said, it has been a wonderful ride for yours truly.  I hope that it has been as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to write.  While I will likely always harbor inherent prejudices against Stupid Washington State University and Dumb Cal (and am delighted at how lousy they were this season), I will strive to maintain my (comparative) objectivity (UCLA 38, USC 28) when reviewing actual results.

Greta wouldn’t have it any other way.

Signing off,

Mr. G.

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Week 13: Rivalries Shape the Bowl Picture

While two games determined the Pac-12 conference championship participants, several other games around the nation determined which teams would represent their conferences in bowl games.  Let’s catch up on the action from Rivalry Week.

I. Pac(k)in’ Up: Stanford Earns Title Game Berth

Stanford 35, UCLA 17:  The Bruins lost for the fourth time in a row to Stanford, something which has not happened since 1931.  The Cardinal tallied seven sacks on QB Brett Hundley, had an effective running game, and held UCLA to zero first downs in the second quarter.  Furthermore, Stanford played with energy and purpose; UCLA did not.

Am I upset?  Not at all.  On the contrary: I am delighted.

Let’s be clear.  With Oregon defeating Oregon State earlier in the day, Stanford had to win in order to play in the conference championship.  Meanwhile, as several sports websites pointed out, UCLA had nothing to play for after Oregon’s win.  The Bruins had already sewn up the South division and would play at Stanford or at Oregon for the Pac-12 title.

Let’s see…would I rather play at Stanford Stadium in front of a sparse, unenthusiastic crowd, or at Autzen Stadium in front of a raucous, packed house?

Translation (I): not only did UCLA have nothing to play for on Saturday, but in fact, it was in the best interest of the team NOT to win (as ridiculous as that sounds).  Simply put, Stanford is an easier opponent than Oregon.  I’m not saying Stanford is an easy opponent — they did defeat Oregon, after all — but given a choice, I’ll take this Stanford team over the Ducks any day of the week.  Including Friday.

To his credit, Coach Mora said the right things, suggesting that UCLA was playing to win.  “If we were holding something back, we wouldn’t have had our starters in there at the end.”  Good sales pitch, coach, but I ain’t buying it.  He knew something was “off” during the game, and wondered (aloud) why during the press conference.  Linebacker Anthony Barr provided some of the answer: “Our energy and demeanor was down today. I don’t know why, but we need to have more energy.”

Allow me to complete the picture, Mr. Barr.  UCLA had no incentive to win.  When you have no incentive — or, as I pointed out, you actually have negative incentive — your energy level deteriorates.  I don’t care what anyone says: you cannot play with the same passion and excitement, no matter who your opponent is, if it is in your best interest not to win!

I have been to dozens of UCLA games in my life, but this was the first time I can remember actually hoping my team would not win, even against our third biggest rival.  Blame it on conference expansion if you will, but if I wasn’t up for this game, you know for certain the rest of the team wasn’t up for it either.  Everyone knows that this Friday’s game is the one that counts for UCLA.  Stanford had to win last Saturday to play in it; UCLA had to lose in order to avoid playing Oregon.  Simple as that.

If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll listen to Stanford coach David Shaw, who said of this week’s rematch: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder than [Saturday’s] game was. We’re going to get their best shot.”

Translation (II): he knew full well he didn’t get UCLA’s “best shot” last Saturday.  The fans knew it, and so did the players.  You want to call that an excuse?  Go right ahead.  I don’t care what you call it.  All I know is this: as I was watching the game at the Rose Bowl with UCLA alum and season ticket holder (not to mention fellow football fanatic) Kenny Phillips, something remarkable happened.

During the second quarter, Kenny fell asleep.  Nuff said.

I should give Stanford some credit.  With the victory, they have three straight 10-win seasons for the first time ever.  Since taking over for Josh Nunes, QB Kevin Hogan has guided the Cardinal to wins over three straight ranked opponents — another first for the program.  David Shaw was just honored as Pac-12 Coach of the Year.  And if the Cardinal win on Friday, they will be headed to their third straight BCS game, a remarkable turnaround for a program that went 1-11 in 2006.

But if you’re going to tell me that Stanford played the “real” UCLA on Saturday, forget it.  We’ll see the real Bruins on Friday in Palo Alto (which brings up another reason I wanted Stanford to win: I’ll be at the conference championship game).  If Stanford wins THAT game, then yes, they really are the better team.  You can bet I won’t be falling asleep during the second quarter.

Oregon 48, Oregon State 24:  Oregon State kept it close for a half, trailing just 20-17 early in the third quarter, but it was all Ducks thereafter.  Oregon did not need any help to win this game, but the Beavers gave it to them anyway, turning the ball over six times.  Still, Oregon State has had a very good season, and should finish 9-3 with a good bowl bid to come.  Oregon, for their part, can only kick themselves after the Stanford loss, which cost them first a national championship bid, and now a possible Rose Bowl appearance.  Cursed Cardinal!

II. Rest of the Pac

Mercifully, Cal had completed its season last weekend.

Stupid Washington State 31, Washington 28 (OT):  It’s about time I nailed a prediction.  Last week I stated that you might want to watch this game if you were a fan of the unpredictable.

WSU trailed 28-10 in the fourth quarter.  Game over, right?  Not so fast.  The Cougars, who had rushed for only three touchdowns the entire season, matched that total in this game, including two short TD runs in the fourth quarter to pull within 28-25.  With 1:59 to play, Andrew Furney connected on a 45-yard field goal to tie the score.  Despite the crowd going hysterical, UW calmly marched down the field to the WSU 15 facing a simple 3rd and 1, but the Huskies were flagged for a false start — the 18th (!!) UW penalty of the game — and when they failed to convert, Travis Coons came on to attempt a 35-yarder with five seconds remaining to win the game.

And then…and then…oh, just watch this:

That collective scream you hear at the 12:52 mark is the scream of a fan base that has snapped an eight game losing streak, and a three year losing streak to its rival.  This was a 2-9 team that defeated its 7-4 older brother.  This is why nothing, NOTHING, can match college football when it comes to American sports passion.

Was that unpredictable enough for you?

Arizona State 41, Arizona 34:  Not to be outdone, the battle for the Territorial Cup featured another 4th quarter explosion, this time propelling Arizona State to a 41-34 decision over Arizona in Tuscon.  Generally you win when you rack up 36 first downs and 522 total yards, but four costly turnovers and a blocked punt did in the Wildcats, who led 27-17 entering the final period before getting blitzed by 24 unanswered points.  With the win the Sun Devils move to 7-5, while Arizona also finishes a very respectable 7-5.  Both teams are headed for bowl games.

Utah 42, Colorado 35:  A third outstanding game on the conference slate featured one more 4th quarter comeback, this time by the Utes, who trailed 28-20 after three but outscored the Buffaloes 22-7 in the final frame.  The best post-game quote comes from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “I can’t for the life of me figure out why they kicked to Reggie Dunn.  But we’re glad they did.”

For those who aren’t aware, Reggie Dunn is the NCAA record holder for 100-yard kickoff returns.  He plays for Utah.  He had returned four kickoffs in his career for touchdowns.  The score was tied 35-35 when Colorado kicked off to Reggie Dunn.

Reggie Dunn ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown.

Goodbye Jon Embree.

Notre Dame 22, USC 13:  Perhaps we could say that Notre Dame won this game 5 to 2 — that is, five field goals to two.  The Trojans kept the Irish out of the end zone for the final three quarters, but 22 points was enough to propel Notre Dame to its first undefeated regular season since 1988, and a berth in the national championship game in Miami.  Meanwhile, Max Wittek played reasonably well in relief of Matt Barkley, despite his two interceptions.  But some questionable game management decisions will have Trojan fans scratching their heads once again, wondering if Lane Kiffin learned those skills in a correspondence course.

Next week, in the final blog, I will assign grades for all 12 teams in the conference.  Cal, USC, and Colorado fans won’t enjoy my critiques at all.  Utah and Washington fans won’t like them much.  The Arizona schools will do fine, and I will show some mercy for Stupid WSU.  Oregon and Stanford will get some love, and I might even cut my Bruins some slack.  Finally, Oregon State fans will rejoice in the fact that I am delighted with their season.  David Shaw may have been selected by the conference as Coach of the Year, but I probably would have given the nod to either Jim Mora Jr. or Mike Riley.  As I’ve said before, so I say again: no one does more with less than the Head Beaver Coach.

III. Conference Championship Preview

Before last Saturday’s game, Cousin Adam predicted that Stanford would win the first game in the Rose Bowl, but UCLA would win the rematch in Palo Alto.  The reason?  It’s hard to beat the same team twice in one season.

I’m not entirely sure I buy that logic.  Stanford is going to use the identical game plan they have used all season: run the ball, and stop the run (Stanford leads the NATION in run defense at 71 yards per game).  If it worked once against UCLA, there’s no reason it can’t work a second time.  Adam also pointed out that Stanford looked like the more physical team on Saturday, and in fact, the Bruin players agreed.  So does that make Friday’s result a foregone conclusion?

Hardly.  As I stated earlier, we’ll see the real UCLA on Friday.  The forecast calls for “tons of rain” despite mild 65 degree temperatures.  Generally that favors run-oriented teams like Stanford, but then again, UCLA won its most important game of the season vs. USC in a rain storm.  I would also point out that Kevin Hogan went 15-for-22 with no interceptions against the Bruins, while UCLA turned it over twice and had 12 crippling penalties.  Stanford is not going to play as well as they did on Saturday, and UCLA will not play as badly (certainly the Bruins are not going to give away a touchdown on a fumbled kickoff return).  I expect the game to be low scoring and tight all the way through, unless one team makes a catastrophic error.  If it comes down to the kicking game, the edge goes to UCLA; otherwise, Stanford has a slight advantage playing at home.

All things considered, the team that makes fewer mistakes should win this game.  Stanford fumbled four times last Saturday but lost only one.  They can’t rely on that ratio holding up again.  Stanford’s strength is its defense; UCLA’s strength is its offense.  Last week, Stanford won that battle.  We’ll see how it goes on Friday with the big prize on the line.

IV. National Notes

Yes, there were other games going on last week.  Weren’t you paying attention?

In case you weren’t, here are some of the highlights.

  • Kent State (!?) improved to 11-1 with its 28-6 demolition of Ohio.
  • Nebraska moved to 10-2 and earned a berth in the Big 12 title game by upending Iowa 13-7.
  • East Carolina made it eight wins on the year with its 65-59 double overtime victory over Marshall, which just misses out on a bowl game.  Don’t get me started on these crazy scores.
  • After opening the season 5-0, West Virginia finally recorded its sixth win with a 31-24 decision over Iowa State, thereby snapping a five game losing skid.
  • Georgia eviscerated in-state rival Georgia Tech 42-10 to move to 11-1 — nice preparation for the showdown with Alabama in the SEC championship game.
  • Ohio State shut out Michigan in the second half to win 26-21 and finish 12-0, leaving Buckeye fans to wonder why in the world they didn’t take a self-imposed bowl ban last season instead of this season.
  • Two 4-6 Big East teams — Connecticut and Pittsburgh — defeated two departing 9-1 Big East teams — Louisville and Rutgers, respectively — to send the message that if you’re going to leave the conference, we’re going to kick you through the door on the way out.
  • Virginia Tech had just enough to hold off Virginia, 17-14, to send Beamer’s Boys to 6-6 and a chance at another winning season pending a bowl bid.
  • Northwestern made sure it would win its ninth game of the season by throttling Illinois 50-14.  Can the Wildcats finally win a bowl game for the first time in over half a century?
  • Tennessee finally won an SEC game, defeating hapless Kentucky 37-17.  Both teams made mistakes galore, indicating why a coaching change was necessary.  The announced crowd of 81,841 was apparently misleading, as there did not appear to be 60,000 fans at the game.  Derek Dooley and Joker Phillips may have a golf date in the near future.
  • For the second straight week, 52 was the number for Baylor, who moved to 6-5 after a 52-45 overtime victory over Texas Tech.  The Bears are now bowl eligible yet again — a fantastic string of seasons for a program that previously had been the perennial doormat of the Big 12.
  • North Carolina provided Maryland with its ACC walking papers, handing the soon-to-be Big Ten member a 45-38 loss.
  • Utah State moves to 10-2 after its 45-9 destruction of Idaho, which probably should not be playing in the FBS.  The Aggies are two field goals away from being undefeated.
  • Florida rained on Florida State’s parade, scoring 24 points in the final quarter to erase a 20-13 deficit and win going away, 37-26.  The Gators are now 11-1.  Too bad that “1” was to Georgia, which will cost them a national title opportunity.
  • Penn State moves to 8-4 and sends 7-5 Wisconsin backing into the Big Ten title game, which, unsurprisingly, has very little interest.
  • Vanderbilt clobbered Wake Forest 55-21 to move to 8-4 (that’s eight and four — and yes, that’s Vanderbilt) for the first time since 1982.  Break out the Intellivision!
  • Memphis forced Southern Mississippi to endure what I believe is the worst single-season turnaround in college football history.  Last year USM went 12-2, but after losing 42-24 to the Tigers, the Eagles finish the season 0-12.  What can anyone say?
  • Furthering the “ACC is weak” argument, South Carolina disposed of rival Clemson 27-17.  The ACC finishes the regular season with zero teams ranked in the top 10 and zero teams with only one loss.
  • Mississippi defeated Mississippi State 41-14 to finish 6-6, and more importantly, win the Egg Bowl.  I wonder if they can order their trophy scrambled.
  • Texas A&M defeated Missouri 59-29 to finish 10-2 and keep QB Johnny Manziel atop the Heisman Trophy race.  Barring something unforeseen, he will become the first freshman to take the Stiff Arm.  Wow.
  • San Jose State matched their best win total in 25 years by defeating Louisiana Tech 52-43.  The only blemishes for the Spartans this season have been a three point loss at Stanford and a 22-point loss at Utah State.
  • Fresno State made their first season in the Mountain West a great one, polishing off Air Force 48-15 to earn a share of the conference title.  The Fighting Armenians are back.
  • Talk about numbers: Oklahoma put up 44 first downs, ran 103 total plays, and netted 618 yards of total offense — but still needed overtime to win the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State, 51-48.  I’m tired just thinking about it.

Actually, I’m just tired.  It’s 6:13 in the morning.  Good night.

–Mr. G.

Week 12: Pac-12 Bleeding Cardinal and True Blue

Just when everything seemed clear, the Pac-12 took another crazy turn, as did the national title picture.  Blame it on Waco and Palo Alto.

I. Conference Craziness

At the beginning of the season (see Week 1 Blog), I stated that you would have to be crazy to pick anyone other than Oregon and USC to represent the North and South divisions in the conference championship game.  Only someone from a mental institution in Armenia would do such a thing.

Chalk one up for the Hye Psychos.  UCLA has won the South, and Stanford controls its destiny in the North.

Stanford 17, Oregon 14 (OT):  As former USC QB Shane Foley always says, this is why we play the games.

Stanford entered this game as a 20.5-point underdog, and for good reason:

  • Oregon had won 13 in a row.
  • Oregon had scored at least 42 points in each of those victories.
  • Stanford had squeaked out five of their eight wins this season by a touchdown or less.
  • Oregon had defeated Stanford the past two seasons by nearly identical scores of 52-31 and 53-30.
  • Oregon was playing at home, with a direct path to the national championship on the line.

In other words, all the stars had aligned for Oregon.

That’s when Stanford decided to pull an eclipse.

Just when you thought Oregon had finally broken the Stanford jinx, the Cardinal did it to them again — and of all the head-scratchingly painful losses the Ducks have suffered at the hands of the Trees over the past 25 years (13-10 in 1987 with Brad Muster, 28-21 in 1995 in Eugene, 27-24 in Palo Alto in 1996, 49-42 in 2001 denying Oregon a national championship shot), this one had to hurt the most.  This was the best Oregon team of all time!  They were the most stacked offensive unit in the country, and in addition, they had a competitive defense.

Stanford, meanwhile, had no Andrew Luck, no Toby Gerhart, no Jim Harbaugh, and no realistic chance to win this game.  Like last year when USC strolled into Autzen, I saw virtually no way for the visitors to escape with a win.  In fact, I couldn’t formulate a way Stanford could even stay close.  Their QB was starting just his third game.  Stanford had escaped with a win over Oregon State at home the previous week despite four turnovers.  Arizona had torched the Cardinal earlier in the season for 48 points in regulation.  Oregon had everything to play for and had won nine of the last ten in the series.  This could not happen.  Oregon could not let it happen.  Oregon would not let it happen.

It happened.

How did it happen??  After looking at the stat line, it still doesn’t add up!  I am as confused as this guy:

Stanford turned it over three times to just once for the Ducks.  All the other statistical categories were basically even.  Since I am not Greta, I cannot demystify things I do not understand.  For lack of a better idea, I suppose I can try to point to a couple of game-changing plays that made the difference:

  • Stanford stopped Oregon on two critical 4th down plays, while the Cardinal converted on 4th and 1 with two minutes to play to keep themselves alive.
  • Stanford fought Oregon to a draw in the running game.
  • You die by the replay (Stanford at Notre Dame), you live by the replay.  In this game, Zach Ertz’s touchdown reception was originally ruled incomplete, but was overturned to give the Cardinal the tie with 90 seconds to go.
  • Jordan Williamson missed one field goal for Stanford, but also made one in overtime.  Alejandro Maldon-uh-oh missed both of his attempts for Oregon.

If you can figure it out, you’re welcome to explain it to me.  The best I can offer is that Stanford decided to honor the 23rd anniversary of the Roger game by renewing its hex on Oregon.  For those of you who do not know this story, you’re in for a treat.

Flash back to 1989.  Stanford, at the tail end of a decade of mediocrity, is facing Oregon and falls behind 17-0 with about eight minutes to play.  Uncle Roger is so disgusted that he gives up on the game and refuses to listen to the end of it.  Sitting in the car at In-N-Out Burger, yours truly cannot believe what he is hearing.  How can you give up on your own team?!  While Roger dismisses the result as a foregone conclusion, I listen even more intently, hoping for a miracle.

As father and son finish their pre-game meal (we are heading for the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA play Michigan), Stanford finally gets on the board to make it 17-7.  Approaching the Arroyo Seco, the Cardinal scores again and adds a two point conversion to make it 17-15 with a few seconds to play.  Still, the comeback attempt is bound to fall short, because the onside kick never works when the opponent knows it’s coming.

But this is Stanford vs. Oregon, so of course it does work, and suddenly Stanford is in position for a field goal if they can get just a few more yards.  By this point I am delirious, screaming wildly at my father, who is talking outside with long time friend Tom Charbonneau in the tailgate area.  Uncle Roger had mentally refused to accept the idea that Stanford could (much less would) come back in the game.  I remained adamant.  I had not given up on the game, and would teach my dad a lesson in loyalty and perseverance if it was the last thing I did.

Stanford picked up the necessary yardage and lined up for a medium-range field goal with five seconds to play.  I yelled the proceedings to my disbelieving father, who remained unrepentant to the end.  But that only made it sweeter when the Cardinal sent the kick up and GOOD to stun Oregon 18-17 in the most personally satisfying victory of my pre-UCLA life.

For Ducks fans, the “Roger Game” had to be the most revolting Oregon loss to Stanford in the history of the series.  That is until last Saturday.  This time, my dad believed in Stanford.  Call it Roger’s Revenge if you like.  I guess it’s my turn to scratch my head.

UCLA 38, USC 28:  I have tried to be objective.  I have tried to exercise self-restraint.  I have attempted to report fairly throughout the season.

Screw that.  This game rocked.

After years of futility against the Trojans, UCLA came out smoking.  USC won the toss and elected to receive — a decision that made no sense to me then, and still makes no sense to me now — and promptly saw Matt Barkley throw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, leading to a 7-0 lead barely one minute into the game.

The next twenty minutes were a blur.  USC punted, UCLA scored a field goal.  Marqise Lee fumbled, UCLA scored a touchdown.  The Trojans turned it over on downs, UCLA scored another touchdown.

I said last week that this wouldn’t be no 50-0 game.  I didn’t consider the possibility that it could be 50-0 Bruins.

It wasn’t.  USC had too much talent to get overrun.  Despite being down 24-0 before the second quarter was halfway completed, I knew the game was far from over, and I told the two SC fans sitting next to me as much.  By halftime the Trojans had cut the deficit to 24-14, and you knew things were going to get interesting.

The overcast skies that had encircled the stadium before the start of the game began to release their precipitation in earnest.  By the time the bands had finished their halftime shows, the field was soaking wet, as was my UCLA jersey.  I didn’t care.  I had brought a jacket and a cap, but didn’t want to wear them.  This was football weather, and this was a football game.

I warned David Calkins, who was sitting next to me watching his first game at the Rose Bowl since the Cade McNown era, that ball control would be the critical determinant in the second half.  Sure enough, on the first play from scrimmage, Brett Hundley’s pass to Jordon James was dropped.  Two plays later, both Hundley AND Johnathan Franklin lost the handle.  With the ball bouncing unpredictably backwards in the rain, George Uko finally recovered in the end zone.  Touchdown!  USC was right back in the game at 24-20.

The stage was set for a classic finish.  Would the Trojans come all the way back to win their sixth in a row against UCLA in dramatic fashion?  Or would the Bruins turn the momentum in time to reclaim the Victory Bell?

The Bruins scored the next big play when Eric Kendricks partially blocked a USC punt, setting up a short field that led to a touchdown and a 31-20 lead.  Andre Heidari later missed a 44-yard field goal for the Trojans, and when the same Eric Kendricks made another huge play by intercepting Barkley with 11:49 remaining, it looked as though UCLA had the game in hand.

But this is a rivalry game, and things are rarely so simple.  The Trojans forced another UCLA punt, and within two minutes, Marqise Lee had scored.  Add a two-point conversion by Robert Woods and bingo: 31-28 UCLA with 7:22 to go.

Only twice since 2000 had the Cross Town Rivalry been this exciting so late in the game.  The Bruins held 23-point favorite USC to a 29-24 decision in 2004, and won the epic defensive battle 13-9 in 2006.  The other nine contests in that span were double-digit victories for the Trojans, who were clearly the superior team each year (as well as in 2004 and 2006).

But those UCLA teams did not have Brett Hundley at the helm, nor Jim Mora on the sidelines.  Those UCLA teams are not this UCLA team — and this UCLA team is different.

With the game in the balance, Hundley blithely directed a knockout 9-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a critical conversion on 3rd and 13 to Joe Fauria.  Johnathan Franklin sealed the game with his 29-yard scamper to provide the final margin of victory, and in so doing, caused the Rose Bowl to erupt in ecstasy — or head for the tunnels in shock.

I have not been to a UCLA game this exciting since 2006, and more significantly, I have not felt like this at a UCLA-USC game since 1998 (the last time the Bruins were stronger than the Trojans). The reason: this victory was not a fluke.  The better team won.  I can hardly believe I’m saying that, but as my USC friends have agreed, there’s no reason to hold back for the sake of objectivity.

On the other hand, let’s not get carried away here.  Shane and I agreed that the team that committed fewer turnovers and wanted it more would win this game.  UCLA scored the victory because they won the turnover battle (3 to 1) and took advantage of USC mistakes in all three phases of the game, including a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked field goal.  It would be easy to say, given the result, that UCLA wanted it more, but that would downplay the fact that USC came back from a 24-0 deficit to close within 31-28.  USC showed fight right to the final whistle.

And yet…I must say, if the body language of the players was any indication, UCLA definitely wanted this game more.  The Bruins were flying to the football and making plays with abandon.  Even when USC was mounting its comeback, the Trojan sideline could not match the emotion of the UCLA sideline.  The atmosphere of this game was unlike any I have seen before in this rivalry.  From the outset, something felt strange, awkward, uneasy.  Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was the early start time, perhaps it was the dampened excitement due to the unmet expectations of the preseason #1 team; but whatever it was, I never sensed USC was quite ready for this game.  Lane Kiffin, in a moment of remarkable clarity, echoed this exact sentiment in his post game interview.  I’ll leave it to others to figure out how one’s team cannot be ready to play against its rival with the conference championship on the line.

Regardless of how you spin it, this was a monumental victory for UCLA, which now runs its record to an almost unimaginably good 9-2, far surpassing expectations.  On the flip side, USC drops its third game out of four to fall to 7-4.  As Kiffin stated, this USC team has too much talent to have that many losses.  Yet his job is not in jeopardy, as AD Pat Haden confirmed earlier in the week that he is 150% behind Kiffin.  Such strong support following an obviously subpar season is a bit surprising, but credit Haden for being forthright.  Time will tell if this victory was a high water mark for UCLA, or the beginning of a string of dominance not seen in Westwood since the 1990’s.

Speaking of which: this game also preserved one of the most important distinctions in the series.  With a win, Barkley would have become only the second quarterback to have led his team to victory four straight times as the starter.  As it stands, Cade McNown remains the only player to have accomplished that feat.  Could Brett Hundley duplicate his success?  We shall see.

By the way, if anyone out there in cyberspace has a tape of this game, please let me know.  Something tells me I might enjoy watching it again.  Not to mention:

No, I won’t be receiving an income tax refund from Uncle Wayne, but the $20 I’ll be collecting will be considerably more satisfying.

Oregon State 62, Cal 14:  Turn out the lights, Jeff Tedford.  There is nothing particularly noteworthy about this game per se.  The two questions of interest now: will Tedford get fired?  (Answer: yes; already happened.)  Also, will Oregon State parlay its 5-0 record at Reser Stadium this season and momentum from such a dominating victory into an upset over the Ducks this Saturday?  (Answer: I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.)

Arizona 34, Utah 24:  No bowl game for you, Utes.  Trailing 24-17 entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats finished the game with 17 unanswered points to send Utah to its first losing season since 2002.  It ain’t easy playing in the Pac-12, is it, Kyle Wittingham?  Important win for U of A.

Arizona State 46, Stupid Washington State 7:  Jeesh.  1 for 16 on third downs?  19 rushes for one yard?  Outgained 561 to 241?  It’s so easy to make WSU look so bad.  ASU becomes bowl eligible and sets up an interesting Duel in the Desert with rival Arizona this weekend.  As for WSU…what exactly is interesting about this team?

Washington 38, Colorado 3:  Yes, you won, Washington, but it was against Colorado so you don’t get your school color highlighted in the result.  The takeaways from this game: UW will improve to 8-4 with a win over WSU next Saturday.  Meanwhile Colorado will have to defeat Utah on Friday to avoid the worst record in school history and their first winless season at home since 1920.  Yikes.

II. Upcoming Events

UCLA has now clinched the Pac-12 South and will face either Stanford or Oregon in the conference title game.  Unfortunately, the Bruins have one game remaining (thanks a lot, scheduler) against — Stanford.  Not good.  If Oregon defeats Oregon State on Saturday, the Cardinal have to win against the Bruins to make it to the championship game, which means that Stanford will be more motivated than UCLA.

Therefore, I am hoping the Beavers upset the Ducks.  If they do, Stanford will be guaranteed a spot in the championship game, and UCLA-Stanford will be for home field advantage in the rematch.  Both teams will then have clinched a berth before the game, giving no intangibles advantage to Stanford.

Oregon at Oregon State:  Many scenarios are possible, so let me break them down.

  • The best thing that can happen (as far as the conference is concerned) is to have Oregon win this game, and to have Stanford win against UCLA.  In that case, Oregon will almost certainly make it to a BCS bowl as an at-large team, while the Bruins and Cardinal will face off for the Rose Bowl appearance.
  • An even better scenario would be for Oregon to win and for UCLA to defeat Stanford, allowing Oregon to host the conference championship against the Bruins.  If Oregon wins that game and USC upends Notre Dame, the Ducks could very possibly get into the national championship game as the best one-loss team.
  • Finally, Oregon State could upset the Ducks, giving the Beavers a chance to break into the BCS bowls for the first time in a decade.  With a 10-2 record there is a fairly reasonable chance Oregon State could qualify.  I wouldn’t bank on a Beaver victory, though.

Stanford at UCLA:  Why oh why did this game have to come AFTER the UCLA-USC game?  Blame everything on Notre Dame and/or the Pac-12 scheduler.  From now on, Notre Dame should never be scheduled as the last game of the season for USC.  The Cross Town Rivalry must be the final game.  Notre Dame is not part of the Pac-12, and an intersectional battle should not take precedence over UCLA-USC.  Period.  Notre Dame even forced Stanford-Cal to be scheduled in October, leaving the Bears with no more games.  Ridiculous!

As for the Cardinal vs. the Bruins, this could be the anticlimax bowl, or it could actually mean something.  It depends on Oregon vs. Oregon State, as mentioned above.  If OSU wins, both teams would already be in the conference championship game, which makes the game on Saturday much less interesting.  If Oregon wins, the game means much more to Stanford than to UCLA.  No wonder the odds makers are confused.  UCLA opened as a 1.5 point favorite; Stanford is now a 2 point favorite.  Bottom line: who knows what’s going to happen?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Arizona State at Arizona:  An important game for state supremacy and bowl pecking order.  Right now Arizona looks like a slightly better team, but I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the Sun Devils pull it out.

Utah at Colorado:  The “I’m Going Nowhere” Bowl actually might be very hotly contested.  Colorado is playing for pride, while Utah is playing for revenge.  Remember, it was Colorado who knocked the Utes out of the Pac-12 championship game last season by upsetting Utah in Salt Lake City.

Washington at Washington State:  Hmm.  2-9 hosts 7-4.  7-4 hasn’t been impressive or overpowering, but 2-9 has been awful.  On the other hand, it’s a rivalry game, and it’s at Pullman.  You might want to watch this if you’re a fan of the unpredictable.

Notre Dame at USC:  There are several intriguing subplots to this game.  Can the Irish make it to the national championship?  Will USC have enough motivation to knock them out of it?  There is no doubt that USC has the talent to win this game, especially at home, but Notre Dame’s defense has been excellent the entire year.  With Matt Barkley out, Senior Day will have a bittersweet feeling for the Trojan faithful.  In a year that has seen the Trojans dramatically underperform, can they finally put everything together, avoid mistakes on offense, and actually win a game against a good team?  Saturday will be their last chance to salvage the season.  Lose a fifth game, and the whispers that this team was the worst preseason #1 in history will turn to shouts.

III. National Notes

A few final thoughts before closing.  I have the Turkey Tussle to play in two hours and want to get this out before I leave to set up.

  • Florida State defeated Maryland to move to 10-1, but they have no chance at the title game due to their extremely weak strength of schedule.  The ACC is not a top conference.
  • Michigan moves to 8-3 after defeating hapless Iowa 42-17.  Can the Wolverines stop Ohio State from going undefeated?
  • Florida defeated FCS Jacksonville State, but only 23-0.  Do the Gators have ANY offense?
  • South Carolina was tied 7-7 with mighty Wofford.  In the 4th quarter.  Who cares what the final score was?
  • Clemson gave up 48 points to North Carolina State but still won by two touchdowns.  This is college football in 2012.
  • Texas A&M took a 47-7 lead over Sam Houston State before coasting in the 4th quarter.  Amazingly, freshman QB Johnny Manziel now becomes the Heisman favorite.  Could this be the year the freshman jinx is broken for the Stiff Arm?
  • Ohio State topped Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime to move to 11-0.  The Buckeye brass decided not to self-impose their bowl ban last year (instead of this year) because…?
  • Notre Dame dumped Wake Forest 38-0, playing their most complete game of the year, to move to within one victory of the national championship game.  The Irish will be focused at USC; can the Trojans match their intensity?
  • Utah State, playing at tricky Ruston, LA, took a 24-point lead over Louisiana Tech, only to give it all away — then reclaim the victory in overtime, 48-41.  The WAC is stacked this year, with both of these teams at 9-2 along with…
  • San Jose State, who defeated BYU 20-14.  When was the last time the conference had three teams at 9-2?  Has it ever happened?  One thing is for sure: it won’t happen again, as the WAC will be no more after this season.
  • Oklahoma went on the road to play West Virginia, and once again, the Mountaineer defense just couldn’t get the job done.  Oklahoma scored the winning touchdown with 24 seconds to play to escape with a 50-49 decision.  Geno Smith may still be the #1 QB taken in the NFL draft, but oh, his Heisman chances.  Thanks a lot, defense.
  • With a final score of Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18, Derek Dooley cannot get out of Konxville fast enough, nor can the Vols get rid of him quickly enough.  A miserable three years for Vols fans — or four, if you include the Lane Kiffin saga.
  • Kansas State had everything in front of them: win at Baylor and at home against Texas, and the Wildcats would finally play for the national title, while Collin Klein would win the school’s first Heisman.  But after giving up 580 yards on defense and throwing three interceptions on offense, those dreams are all but gone after a 52-24 beatdown.  Like I said: blame it on Waco (Kansas State) and Palo Alto (Oregon) for mucking up the BCS picture.
  • From the undefeated to the winless: Southern Mississippi extended its misery by falling to UTEP, 34-33, when their two-point conversion attempt was intercepted in the end zone with under three minutes to play.  Once more I ask: how does a 12-2 team in 2011 go to 0-11 in 2012?

Let me know if you can answer that question.  I haven’t been able to figure out many others this wacky season.

–Mr. G.

Week 11: Duck, Duck, Goose?

Week 11 of the college football season featured several thrilling games.  When the dust had settled, only three (non-probation) teams remained undefeated: Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame — or, as far as the BCS is concerned, Duck, Duck, and Goose.

I. Narrowing It Down, Part 1: National Notes

Texas A&M 29, #1 Alabama 24: Last week I mentioned that Alabama’s aura of invincibility had disappeared after their last-minute escape at LSU.  This week, their luck — if you want to call it that — ran out completely.  Or, if I am being more objective, I should instead state that they ran into a better team.

Yes folks, I just said that.  The Saban Machine, playing at home, lost to Texas A&M not because of a fluke, and not because of a letdown from the LSU game, but because the Aggies were better — at least on this day.  Freshman sensation Johnny Manziel staked A&M to a stunning 20-0 lead before the Tide realized what had hit them.  Previously un-intercepted AJ McCaroon threw two, including his final pass, with Alabama facing 4th and goal from the 2.  The Tide also fumbled once and had 12 penalties for 112 total yards.

The most impressive statistic, however, was A&M’s 421 total yards.  Manziel accounted for 253 through the air and a critical 92 more on the ground to keep Alabama off balance all game.  This is a freshman quarterback!  But no matter: he just strolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium and played virtually mistake-free football (no turnovers, 24-31 passing) in front of 101,821 of his closest, er, friends.  Simple as that.  What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the SEC is likely to miss out on a shot at the national championship for the first time in seven years.  With Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame unbeaten, Alabama (or Georgia) would need two of them to lose in order to open up a spot for a once-defeated SEC team.  Stranger things have happened, though, and you don’t need to look much further than last year, when Alabama somehow made it into the championship game despite not winning its division (let alone its conference).

But enough about Alabama; this game was about Texas A&M.  Looking at it in retrospect, I should have realized that the Aggies were going to win this game before it was even played.  After all, who can possibly defend someone named Johnny Football?  Who (other than perhaps Greta) could stop a running back whose first name is Christine?  (He scored both of A&M’s rushing touchdowns.)  Finally, is there anyone in the universe who can score on a defensive back named Deshazor?  (Certainly not McCarron, whose final pass was intercepted by His Impenetrability.)  The Tide had no chance against such superior names.  Talent had nothing to do with it.

OK, maybe it did have something to do with it.  Regardless, this was a monumental victory for Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M, who are now one of the hottest teams in the country.  Anyone want to take them on?  I didn’t think so.

#2 Oregon 59, Cal 17: More below in the Pac-12 Roundup.

#3 Kansas State 23, TCU 10: Don’t let the relatively close score fool you.  The Wildcats smothered TCU the entire game, leading 23-0 until the final seven minutes.  Collin Klein was not spectacular, but did nothing to harm his Heisman candidacy.  Playing the week after a head injury, his passing was slightly off, but his running was as good as usual: he accounted for both of K-State’s touchdowns.  The story of the night, however, was the Wildcat defense, which limited the Horned Frogs to 96 rushing (and 274 total) yards.  With games at Baylor and vs. Texas to close out the season, Bill Snyder may finally get his shot at the national championship game.

#4 Notre Dame 21, Boston College 6: Boring but efficient?  Pretty much.  After last week’s Houdini against Pitt, the Irish will take any no-drama win they can get.  This game qualifies.  Notre Dame did not score in the final 25 minutes, but they didn’t need to.  Their defense held BC to just two field goals.  ND avoided the fate of the 1993 team, which lost on the final play of the final game of the season to BC to finish 10-1 and miss out on a chance at the national championship.

As it stands, Notre Dame will move up to #3 in the BCS standings, and will need a loss by either Kansas State or Oregon to jump into the title game — assuming they can get by Wake Forest and USC, which is anything but a foregone conclusion.

#5 Ohio State: Fradulent Undefeated #1 was off this week, but hopefully will lose to Wisconsin this coming Saturday.  Please, Buckeyes, do not go undefeated while on probation.  That leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

Syracuse 45, #9 Louisville 26: Fradulent Undefeated #2 did not survive, getting walloped in what is arguably the ugliest stadium in the country, the Carrier Dome.  Ryan Nassib led the Big East’s top offensive unit to 45 points, thereby upstaging another strong performance from Louisville freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater.  Louisville’s problem area all season has been its defense, and this time, it finally caught up to them.  The Cardinals can still win the Big East, but any long shot hopes at a national championship berth are history.

II. Narrowing It Down, Part 2: Pac-12 Notes

To put you in suspense, I will start with the games that had little or no bearing on the conference race before discussing the games that determined who was still alive for the division titles.

Washington 34, Utah 15: Once again I should have seen this coming.  Mitt Romney lost to Washington (D.C.) last Tuesday, so it only makes sense that Utah would also lose to Washington (state) on Saturday.  Call it a bad week for the Mormons.  The Utes had scored 49 in successive weeks, at home, against Cal and WSU, while UW had yet to score more than 21 points in any game this season against FBS competition.  So what happened?  Utah regressed — badly — fumbling five times, going a putrid 1-13 on third downs, and accounting for only 188 total yards.  Meanwhile, Washington found an offense against what had been a relatively stout Utah unit.  This is a very disappointing loss for Utah, which hasn’t won a road game since last November at WSU.

Arizona 56, Colorado 31: “I’ve been Ka’Deemed” should become the new official worship song of the University of Arizona Football Christian Church, following Ka’Deem Carey’s messianic 366 rushing yards (one for every day of the leap year!) and five rushing touchdowns, both conference records.  To their credit, overmatched Colorado trailed just 21-17 with under three minutes to go before halftime, but the Wildcats finished off the Buffaloes 35-14 thereafter.  At least there are signs of life for CU’s program, which reached its moribund low last week in losing 48-0 at home to Stanford.

Oregon 59, Cal 17: Don’t be misled: this one was close for quite a while.  Cal was right there, trailing 24-17 midway through the third quarter, and had the ball.  Then, like a sudden thunderstorm from nowhere, disaster struck.  Backup Cal QB Allan Bridgford’s screen pass was picked off; Oregon scored on the next play.  31-17.  Then 38-17.  Then 45-17.  Then 52-17.  Then 59-17.  The final 20-25 minutes could have been taken from the scene of a Batman episode: Whack!  Bam!  Pop!  Crash!  Pow!  Note too that all five of those TD’s were through the air.  Cal had sold out to stop Oregon’s run game, which had decimated USC the week before.  The Bears bottled up the Ducks on the ground, but that merely allowed Marcus Mariota to have a career day.  Good night, Cal, and peaceful retirement dreams, Jeff Tedford.

USC 38, Arizona State 17: Let’s call this “Hmmmm #1.”  On the one hand, USC’s defense returned, holding ASU to 15 first downs and 250 total yards while forcing four Sun Devil turnovers.  On the other hand, ASU actually led this game 17-14 in the second half, due in large part to two Trojan fumbles and three more Barkley interceptions.  USC fans must be relieved to get this win, but cannot be happy with the play of the offense — save for Marqise Lee (10 catches, 161 yards, TD) and perhaps Curtis McNeal (31 rushes, 163 yards, 2 TD).  The Trojans did limit themselves to four penalties, which is a plus.  But if the Trojans turn it over five times against UCLA on Saturday, they can’t expect to come out with another victory.

What the Trojans do NOT need are any further shenanigans (deflated balls, questionable number changing, blocked media access) that draw international attention.  The following video was posted by an animation company in Taiwan.  I pity USC AD Pat Haden.  He’s a class act who never would have hired Lane Kiffin in the first place, but he’s stuck with him, and with videos like this (which I first saw on the CBS Sports website):

UCLA 44, Washington State 36: “Hmmmm #2.”  In last week’s blog, I explained that UCLA had to get out to a fast start and put the game out of reach early.  Otherwise, WSU had a legit shot at the upset, because strange things happen in Pullman.  So…which of those occurred?

Yes.

As it turns out, UCLA, buoyed by four (!) blocked kicks, raced to a 37-7 halftime lead, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.  Or was it?  Anyone who knows the history of WSU football knows that the Cougars can conjure up crazy offense at any time, particularly when they’re way behind.  Saturday was no different.  Trailing 44-14, the Cougars refused to die, finding their offensive rhythm on a frigid night in the Palouse.  WSU scored 22 unanswered points to close the gap to 44-36 with 90 seconds to play.  UCLA finally ended the comeback bid by recovering the onside kick, but the scare is worrisome: WSU put up 30 first downs and outscored the Bruins 29-7 in the second half.  UCLA also committed three turnovers as well as a whopping 12 penalties for 126 yards.

So, what do we make of all this?  On the one hand, UCLA captured its fourth victory in a row, finishing 4-1 on the road for its best away record since 2002.  That is a major accomplishment for a team that has had so little road success in recent years.  Jim Mora spun the result by saying, “Sometimes they’re ugly; it’s not always going to be just beautiful,” further adding, “we are 8-2.  We won a game in difficult conditions.  That bodes well for UCLA football.”  I suppose that is true, at least on the surface.  But like USC’s five turnovers vs. ASU this weekend, UCLA can ill afford to give it away three times to the Trojans and expect to win.  Nor will 73 yards rushing on 38 attempts get it done.

Nevertheless, the victories by USC and UCLA set the stage for a second straight Pac-12 South Division Championship game on Nov. 17 at the Rose Bowl.  As you know USC was ineligible to “win” the division last year, but we all know the Trojans were the best team in the South.  This time, however, both teams are eligible.  Whoever wins the game advances to play either Oregon or Stanford for the conference championship.  Thus, we have a de facto conference semifinal, and what better matchup than the classic UCLA vs. USC?

More on the Cross Town Rivalry in the Upcoming Events section.

Stanford 27, Oregon State 23: the conference game of the week did not disappoint, as the Cardinal took advantage of an ill-timed error by Beaver QB Cody Vaz to escape with a sloppy but critical four point victory.

Stanford raced to a 14-0 first quarter lead, but Oregon State came storming back for 23 unanswered points, and with six seconds to play in the third quarter, it looked like the better team — the Beavers — were going to win it.  That’s when new starting QB Kevin Hogan made the play of his college life.  As he was being brought to the turf, he somehow managed to flick the ball to RB Stepfan Taylor, who made several outstanding moves in space to arrive majestically in the end zone, garnering the praise of coach David Shaw, who said it was the best play of Taylor’s career.  That may be true, but it never would have happened without Hogan’s heroics.

Nevertheless, Oregon State still had the lead in the 4th quarter, and also had the ball.  But with nine minutes to go, Vaz lost the handle — the fumble was not forced — and Stanford recovered.  Seven plays later: TOUCHDOWN Stanford.  Ballgame.  A hugely deflating loss for Oregon State, who was gifted with four Stanford turnovers — but whose lone fumble cost them a shot at not only a conference championship, but a likely BCS berth.  Oh, the pain.

III. North and South: Lining Up the Champion

Let’s get the also-rans out of the way first.  The following teams need not apply:

South: Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado

North: Cal, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State

I’m not going to bother with conference power rankings this week because the teams that have been mentioned above have already separated themselves from the top two in each division.  I will state that the Arizona schools are not too far behind UCLA and USC, and that Oregon State is still a better team than Stanford; but by virtue of the Cardinal’s win on Saturday, the Beavers have missed the cut.

What this means is that, for all intents and purposes, the berths in the conference championship will be decided this weekend (save for one scenario which I will get to below).

South: UCLA (8-2, 5-2) vs. USC (7-3, 5-3).

Gosh, where do I begin?  Do I even have enough room to cover this?

Let’s start with the facts.  UCLA has a better record, is higher ranked, and is playing at home.  Therefore the Bruins are favored, right?  Wrong!  USC is a 4-point favorite — something which plays into UCLA’s hands, if you ask me — and the point spread is based on what I have said from the beginning of the season: USC is the most talented team in the division.  On paper, USC should win this game — but they should have won vs. Stanford and Arizona as well, and they did not.  The Trojans have actually played worse as the season has progressed (the opposite of what they did last season, when USC was one of the hottest teams in the country at season’s end). Matt Barkley continues to throw interceptions like they are going out of style.

Meanwhile, UCLA continues to be the wild card, but has put together four victories in a row, including the huge road win over ASU and the 66-10 thrashing of #24 Arizona at the Rose Bowl.  Perhaps I should give my team some credit?  Perhaps.  I’m still reluctant to do so because although the Bruins have players, they are an extremely young team.  This inexperience showed last week when a 30-point lead at WSU nearly evaporated completely in what would have been a disastrous loss.  On the other hand, the Bruins totally dismantled Arizona the week after USC blew a 15-point lead to the Wildcats.  But then again, USC easily defeated Cal, while UCLA got upended 43-17 at Berkeley.  On the other hand….

The point of all this is to say that no one really knows what is going to happen on Saturday.  Both teams have motivation to defeat their rival.  Both are motivated by the prospect of winning the division title.  Naturally, bragging rights comes into play.  But the intangibles stop there.  USC’s main motivation is to try to salvage a season in which they have dramatically underperformed.  UCLA, on the other hand, will be sparked by a desire for vengeance.  The Trojans absolutely obliterated the Bruins at the Coliseum last season.  Anyone remember that game?  Let’s see…what was that score?  Oh yeah: 50-0.  Or should I write, FIFTY TO NOTHING.

You don’t think the Bruins are motivated by that?  The intangibles edge goes to UCLA.  USC has won five straight, but the last five weren’t close or interesting (save for last year’s game, which was interesting in a macabre sort of way).  Last season, I put UCLA’s chance of winning at 5%, and that was generous.  Translation: I expected a Trojan blowout.  I did not anticipate 50-0, however.

So what about this season?  Does Mr. G. play the role of Guru once again?  Only to say this: I set UCLA’s chance of winning at 42.857%.  Bank on it.  And for those of you who don’t care for percentages, don’t blame me — I’m not the one who made a 3-in-7 chance of winning so complicated in percentage format.

I will add this: there IS one thing of which I am certain.  This won’t be no 50-0 game.

North: Oregon (10-0, 7-0) vs. Stanford (8-2, 5-2)

No, no, NO.  Don’t even think about it Stanford.  This is NOT your season.  This is NOT your game to win.  You’ve already maxed out your season with five — count ’em, FIVE — victories by a touchdown or less.  Do not ruin the conference’s chance at a national title.  Don’t even think you can win at Oregon on Saturday.  If you do, you just might, darn you.

Flash back to 2001.  After losing at home to Stupid Washington State University, Stanford had the audacity to travel to Eugene the following week and defeat Oregon, 49-42.  What did that do, you ask?  It sent Oregon to the dumb Fiesta Bowl to take on Colorado.  Oregon was the 2nd best team in the country, but a BCS glitch allowed Nebraska to play in the championship game instead of Oregon.  Why?  Because of Stanford.

But wait: there’s more.  Later that season, UCLA came in undefeated and ranked #4 in the nation.  Stanford decided to play their best half of football in history (that may be a slight overstatement), racing to a 31-7 halftime lead.  UCLA clawed back to 31-28, but Stanford finally outlasted the Bruins in what Uncle Roger deemed the “Bullfight” game.  That knocked UCLA out of the national championship race.

Naturally Stanford followed this effort by losing to Washington the next week, 42-28.

The upshot of all this is that Stanford finished the season 9-2, but ended up in the now-defunct Seattle Bowl, losing ignominiously to Georgia Tech, 24-14.  As cousin Adam put it, Stanford was nothing more than a “gala” in 2001.

By the power invested in me as sole author of this football blog, I hereby call upon Stanford to LOSE to Oregon this Saturday.  You had your run at (or near) the top of the conference last year, and the year before that.  That’s long enough.  You’re still Stanford.  No one cares about you — not even your own fans.  (Please, stop the whining.  Both teams were in the top 20 and playing a crucial game to keep their conference title hopes alive, but the stadium still didn’t sell out.  You can’t even fill a 50,000 seat stadium under those circumstances?  Pathetic.)

For those of you who would like some actual football analysis at this point, I will simply say that Oregon has now scored 40 or more points in 13 consecutive games — a new record for major college football.  The contrarians out there will point to the fact that I predicted Oregon would defeat USC last year in Eugene.  I was wrong then, but I hope (please God) I’m not wrong again this year.  Oregon MUST win this game.  If they do, they win their division, then must win at Oregon State to finish 12-0 and defeat the USC/UCLA winner to end up in the championship game.

Don’t blow it, Oregon.

IV. Scenarios

In case Oregon blows it, Stanford would control its own destiny in the North division.  That would set up some VERY interesting possibilities, the most bizarre of which occurs if UCLA defeats USC.  But let me begin with the more mundane.

First: to reiterate, if Oregon beats Stanford, the North is a done deal.  Oregon wins the division.

Second: if Stanford defeats Oregon, the Cardinal would win the division if they also win at UCLA the following week, OR if Oregon then loses to Oregon State.

Third: the most juicy, the most preposterous, and yet the most deliciously contradictory situation occurs if the following happens.  Let’s say Oregon gets food poisoning the day before the game against Stanford, allowing the Cardinal to squeak out a 27-26 decision (how else is Stanford going to win that game?).  Now assume that UCLA beats USC.  The final game of the season features Stanford traveling to UCLA.  Stanford must win that game to ensure themselves of the North Division title.  UCLA, however, will have already clinched the South.  If UCLA then defeats Stanford, they would have to play a conference championship game against Oregon.  Does ANYONE want to play at Oregon right now?  Didn’t think so.

But wait a minute — what exactly does that mean?  If UCLA were to lose to Stanford, they would not have to play Oregon, but instead would play for the Pac-12 championship at…Stanford??!?!?  Good heavens!  What this means is that, paradoxically, it is actually in UCLA’s best interest to intentionally lose to Stanford so that they don’t have to play Oregon.  Has anyone ever heard of such?  Not in college football.  Certainly this occurs in the NBA, when teams will lose at the end of the season in order to give themselves a more favorable opponent in the first round of the playoffs.  But in college football?  I’ve never heard of this before.

I can’t see myself attending the UCLA-Stanford game rooting for Stanford.  Ever.  No, not ever.  So please, Oregon, make all of this fantasizing a moot point.  Take care of business and put me out of my misery.  Defeat Stanford, and make all things clear and bright.

V. Previews

If you’re still reading, you must really love college football.  Or crazy scenarios.  Or my writing style.  Or you have too much time on your hands.

USC at UCLA: Already covered.

Stanford at Oregon: Ditto.

Dumb Cal at Oregon State: What a miserable way for Tedford to end his Cal coaching career: with a loss in Corvallis — assuming the Beavers recover from the hangover of the Stanford loss.

Stupid Washington State at Arizona State: Good timing for the Sun Devils, who need a win to get to bowl eligibility.  They are going to win that 6th game.  Right?

Arizona at Utah: A bigger game for the Utes, who must win to stay alive for bowl consideration, than for Arizona, who’s already there.  Utah will bring everything they have.  If it’s not enough, so be it.

Washington at Colorado: Who cares?  (Sorry to be curt; maybe I’m tired.)

VI. Final Notes: Around the Nation

  • Ball State 34, Toledo 27: The Ball crashes the Glass Bowl and breaks all the Rockets.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
  • Florida State 28, Virginia Tech 22: The Seminoles escape with a win in Blacksburg.  I can’t remember the last time Va Tech was 4-6.  I thought Frank Beamer didn’t know what a losing season was.
  • Wisconsin 62, Indiana 14: There will be no Big Ten Armageddon.  Wisconsin takes Indiana out of the Rose Bowl picture.  Hopefully the Badgers can do the same to Ohio State this week.
  • Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT): Did you see the most recent episode of “That’s Why You’re Northwestern” on ESPN?  It features the Wildcats giving up a 53-yard pass with two seconds to play that allows Michigan to kick the game-tying field goal and send it into overtime, after which the Wolverines win.  Wait a minute…sorry: that’s what actually happened on Saturday.
  • Virginia 41, Miami (Fla.) 40: Taking one from Northwestern’s book, Miami finds a way to give it away at the end.  Leading 40-35 with a few seconds to play, the Hurricanes allow a TD pass in the back of the end zone to lose to a weak Cavalier team and fall to 5-5 on the season.  Not that I’m complaining.
  • Florida 27, Louisiana Lafayette 20: So close, and yet — no.  The Ragin’ Cajuns actually led this game by a touchdown with just a few minutes to play, but the Gators scrambled for the tie, then won the game with two seconds remaining by — get this — blocking a punt and returning it 36 yards for the winning score.  Talk about a missed opportunity.  That one really has to sting for ULL.
  • Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4 OT): Yet another wild finish.  The Vols led 28-21 with 47 seconds to play and Missouri facing 4th and 12, but couldn’t seal the win as the Tigers connected for a game-tying 25-yard TD pass.  Four overtimes later, Mizzou kicked the game winner, sending Tennessee to its 13th SEC loss in its last 14 conference games.  Read that last sentence and ask yourself: can that kind of futility possibly allow the coach to survive another year?  It shouldn’t.  Dooley should resign, but he’ll probably be forced out.  Not a good time to be a Vols fan.
  • Georgia Tech 68, North Carolina 50: That’s a regulation score folks.  No overtime.  No kidding.
  • Massachusetts 22, Akron 14: So what if Akron was 1-9?  That was UMass’s first win as an FBS member, and they did it on the road.  Well done, Minutemen!
  • Nebraska 32, Penn State 23: An important win for the Huskers, who are on pace for the Big Ten Championship game and a possible spot in the Rose Bowl — but not a rematch vs. UCLA.  (Right?)
  • Oklahoma State 55, West Virginia 34: Where have you gone, Geno Smith?
  • Georgia 38, Auburn 0: Oh dear oh dear oh DEAR.  Auburn, losing 38-0 at home?  I hate to say it, but Gene Chizik had this coming.  He dumped Iowa State for the Auburn job.  Auburn should not have hired him in the first place, but somehow he lucked into Cam Newton for a season, and all the pieces fell into place — for one season — before falling apart completely.  From 14-0 to 3-9 in just two seasons is a remarkable turnaround, only in the wrong direction.  Eeeeeegads.
  • Vanderbilt 27, Mississippi 26: The Commodores make it six wins for the season with two games to go.  Who says academic institutions (Stanford, Notre Dame, and UCLA are all in the top 20) can’t compete?
  • Louisiana Tech 62, Texas State 55: Enough with these basketball scores.  ENOUGH, I say!
  • Colorado State 33, UNLV 11: If you think I included this game for any reason other than the pleasing score, you don’t know me very well.
  • BYU 52, Idaho 13: This is the third time this season we have seen this improbable score!  I was extremely amused by the ending of this game.  Idaho, trailing by 42, kicked a field goal on the game’s final play, then began celebrating.  I guess anything is worth a party when you’re 1-9.

Had enough?  So have I.

–Mr. G.

Week 10: Survival at the Top

It was a weekend of close calls for the teams at the top of the college football universe.  Only two of the remaining six unbeatens won by more than two touchdowns.  One team waited until the final minute, while another needed three overtimes.  It ain’t easy having the target on your back.

IA. Survivor #1: Quack Attack

If you had told me before the game that USC would put up 51 points and 615 yards, go 8-for-13 on 3rd downs, punt only once, and add another 266 yards in kick returns, I would have assured you of a second consecutive Trojan upset over the Ducks.  In fact, all of the above occurred — save for the USC victory.

How, you ask?  Simple: Oregon did even more on offense than the Trojans.  “51 points?  No big deal, we’ll just score 62.”  What about USC’s 615 yards?  “Child’s play.  730 sounds better to us.”  Thus did the Ducks keep their perfect season intact, recording the most points and yards against USC in the storied 124-year football history of the Trojans.

Commentary?  There’s not much to say.  USC played hard and tried to win.  Oregon, however, was just better: USC’s defense could not stop the Ducks.  8, 9, 10, 11 yard rushes were as common as LA traffic on a work day.  Oregon’s defense is a cause for concern — no one had put up numbers like that against the Ducks this season — but to win by 11 points despite giving up 51?  That’s hard to believe…unless, of course, you watched the game, in which case it seemed inevitable.

IB. Survivor #2: Luck, Luck, Luck of the Irish

Notre Dame, statistically, flattened Pitt.  But when you turn it over three times and your opponent doesn’t turn it over at all, strange things can happen.  Indeed, the Panthers took a 20-6 lead into the 4th quarter at Notre Dame Stadium, and it appeared that the Irish were headed to their first loss of the season.  But ND pulled within 20-12, then scored the game-tying touchdown and two point conversion to send it to overtime.

Surely the Golden Domers could not count on a second miracle.  Right?  Wrong.  After trading field goals in the first overtime, Cierre Wood coughed it up for the Irish just before reaching the end zone.  Pitt lined up for the game winner — a 33-yard field goal — but missed, just wide right.  That forced a third overtime, and this time, Notre Dame scored a touchdown to win, 29-26.

Notre Dame has now won each of its five home games by a touchdown or less this season.  Should we be impressed?  Well…I guess so.  After all, great teams find ways to win even when they aren’t playing their best.  Still, it would be nice to see Notre Dame actually play its best one of these weeks, against someone other than Oklahoma.  This was an escape act par excellence, and the Irish can’t count on that week after week.

IC. Survivor #3: Tide Doesn’t Roll…Until the End

This one has to hurt — if you’re an LSU fan.

The Tigers had this game in hand.  They dominated Alabama in the second half on both sides of the ball and held the Tide to 1-of-9 on 3rd down conversions for the game.  Furthermore, they were ahead 17-14 with just over two minutes to play.  At home.

They lost, 21-17.  The coach has to take responsibility for this one, because he put his team in position to lose, thanks to a fake field goal (on 4th and 12???) that failed, a long field goal near the end of the first half that missed (and led to a short field for Alabama, who scored a TD with nine seconds before halftime), an onside kick that didn’t work, and — worst of all — a called blitz with a 3-point lead and a minute to go that allowed Alabama’s final touchdown.

Given the circumstances of the game, LSU should have been content to give Alabama, at BEST, a chance for a tying field goal.  Instead, after playing far too soft on the previous four plays (allowing the Tide to drive down the field quickly using simple, underneath routes), LSU gambled again and lost.  I like Les Miles, but my oh my, that was an awful display of coaching.  His team was better than Alabama on this day, but he took the W right out of their hands.  Ouch.

What did we learn?  Alabama may be good, but they are beatable.  The Tigers put up 435 yards against a defense that had been shutting down every opponent they had faced.  The Tide certainly deserves to be #1, but the aura of invincibility is gone.

ID. Survivor #4: K-State’s Head Banger

Kansas State was outgained, but Oklahoma State turned it over five times.  You ain’t never gonna beat a Bill Snyder-coached team when you do that.  Final score: Wildcats 44, Cowboys 30.

But wait: that’s not the lead headline?  No, it’s not.  Collin Klein had to leave the game with a head injury of some sort.  That is HUGE news, because without him, it will be tough for the Wildcats to stay unbeaten — and even harder for the Heisman frontrunner to maintain his lead.  The next two weeks will be crucial; can K-State keep it together, even if Klein isn’t cleared to play?

IE. Drama Free: Ohio State, Louisville Cruise

Louisville’s game against Temple was kind of close, until it wasn’t.  The Cardinals flattened the Owls in the second half to post a 45-17 win and record their first 9-0 start in school history.  As for Ohio State, they bulldozed hapless Illinois 52-22 to move to 10-0.  The Buckeyes travel to Wisconsin in two weeks, however, and for perhaps the first time in my life I will be rooting for the Badgers — for no other reason than I don’t want a team on probation to end the season undefeated, particularly playing such a weak schedule.

Now that we’ve covered the survivors at the top, let’s get back to the Pac.

II. Conference Rundown: Not Pretty

Oregon 62, USC 51: as stated above, this was a good effort by the Trojans; Oregon was just better.  The Ducks are not merely the best team in the conference but also the most frightening offensive team in football.

Washington 21, Dumb Cal 13: if you didn’t watch this game, consider yourself blessed.  Both teams played poorly, but Cal found a way to play worse, allowing UW to escape with its first road victory in 13 months despite four turnovers and 12 penalties.  I could say more, but that would be a rare form of torture.

Utah 49, Stupid Washington State 6: a week after the Cougars took Stanford to the wire, they fell apart completely in Salt Lake City.  WSU QB Jeff Tuel fumbled, threw an interception, and was sacked six times.  If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Cougars did avoid the shutout on the game’s final play.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for a silver lining, you’re too much of an optimist.

Stanford 48, Colorado 0: the Cardinal have found a new QB in Kevin Hogan; will he start the remaining games this season?  Before you get excited about his numbers (18-23, 2 TD, 0 INT) or about the defensive performance, remember: this was Colorado.  The Buffaloes are dead last in the nation in scoring defense, kickoff coverage, sacks allowed, and passing efficiency.  Colorado is terrible.  Stanford — like USC and UCLA earlier this season — gets no extra credit for this win.  We’ll see if they’ve improved (especially on offense) when they host the Beavers this coming week.  Speaking of which:

Oregon State 36, Arizona State 26: huh.  Oregon State’s backup QB, Cody Vaz, starts the game and completes just 14 of 33 passes, loses a fumble in the end zone, and throws an interception — yet the Beavers win by 10 points anyway?  That says something about the quality of the team.  Mike Riley continues to work his magic in Corvallis, despite injuries to his starting QB, running back, and leading cornerback.  That’s called overachieving, folks.

UCLA 66, Arizona 10: picture it.  I’m teaching a free seminar on parenting (no, seriously) on Saturday evening, which ends around 8:45.  I drive to the Old Pro to watch the second half of the UCLA-Arizona game.  I’m ready to watch the dramatic conclusion of what promises to be a high-scoring Pac-12 classic.

The only problem: someone forgot to give UCLA the message.

The Bruins decided that this game would be over by halftime.  The first 12 possessions — don’t blink, or you’ll miss them like I did — went like this:

  • UCLA TD, Arizona punt
  • UCLA TD, Arizona punt
  • UCLA TD, Arizona punt
  • UCLA punt fumbled by Arizona and recovered by UCLA = UCLA TD, Arizona field goal
  • UCLA TD, Arizona punt
  • UCLA TD, halftime

What?  It was 42-3 at the HALF????  I showed up and didn’t know whether to be happy at the result or angry at having missed the action.  Then I remembered UCLA’s last outing against the Wildcats: the 48-12 disaster that signaled the beginning of the end for Rick Neuheisel.

Given that I will be attending the USC and Stanford games in person, I decided that missing this magnificent breakout performance (against a ranked team, mind you) was the price I had to pay for providing a free service to the Cupertino community.  Besides, I still got to enjoy 24 more points in the second half.  Meanwhile, Uncle Roger and Cousin Greta were delighted to watch the entire game in donor seats.

Could this be the game that heralds the resurgence of the UCLA Bruins?  The last time I can recall UCLA playing a game like this against a ranked team was back in 1997-98 with Cade McNown.  UCLA had over 300 yards rushing and passing in this game, but what was even more impressive was how the defense completely shut down the Wildcats, holding them to a mere 257 yards just a week after they put up 588 against USC.

I’m trying hard not to get ahead of myself.  This team remains the wildcard in the conference.  But make no mistake: UCLA is much better than I realized, and for the first time in a decade, the Bruins have more than just a puncher’s chance against USC — if they have the maturity to take care of business at WSU on Saturday.  Which reminds me:

III. Conference Power Rankings; Week 11 Previews

South

  1. USC.  At this point I must give this ranking based on talent ONLY, not on performance to date.
  2. UCLA.  The Bruins are surging; can they keep it up?
  3. Arizona.  Great win over USC followed by tough loss to UCLA.  Where now, Wildcats?
  4. Arizona State.  Sun Devils are in the midst of a tough stretch, and now must play at USC.
  5. Utah.  Utes could jump both Arizona schools this week if they extend their two-game winning streak.
  6. Colorado.  Oh dear.

North

  1. Oregon.  Yes, they are annoying and arrogant, but yes, they are really good too.
  2. Oregon State.  The team of destiny?  If the Beavers defeat Stanford and Cal, they could end up in the Rose Bowl — even if they lose to Oregon.  I cannot say enough good things about the job Mike Riley has done this season.  No one in the conference does more with less.
  3. Stanford.  A lot like Notre Dame, but without the 9-0 record.  Of course, a win over Oregon State this weekend will force me to reconsider.
  4. Washington.  Not a good team.  Sorry, just not a good team.  All of their wins have been of the “oops, the other team screwed up” variety.
  5. Dumb Cal.  This team DOES have talent, particularly on defense, but the offensive inconsistency has doomed the Bears to a losing season.
  6. SWSU.  Please, oh please play like you did against Utah this weekend — and not like how you played against Stanford the weekend before.

Colorado at Arizona: Colorado couldn’t beat an egg right now, much less a Pac-12 team.

Arizona State at USC: unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they are going to meet an angry Trojans team at the Coliseum.  ASU has some players, but USC is going to be steaming mad after having dropped two straight.  I just can’t see SC falling to 6-4, unless they have a hangover from the Oregon loss.  Barkley and Co. must put that behind them and show maturity.  I think they will.  After all, the Pac-12 title is still within reach — despite three conference losses already.

Oregon State at Stanford: the most intriguing matchup of the week, by far.  I believe Oregon State is the better team, but Stanford gets this crucial game at home.  I expect it to be relatively low scoring and defensive.  Both teams are physical.  The winner?  Whoever makes fewer mistakes.  A Stanford loss would signal the end of the Cardinal’s reign among the conference’s elite.

Utah at Washington: also intriguing, but for completely different reasons.  I still maintain that UW is a fraud.  Utah is starting to hit its stride; can they win their third in a row?  A loss in this game would be devastating to the Huskies, but even so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Utes win, particularly if they play as well as they did last week.  If Utah avoids turnovers and Washington plays about as well as they did in their win over Cal last week, Utah walks out of Seattle with the victory.

Oregon at Dumb Cal: before you hold your fingers over your nose in disgust, don’t forget about the near-disaster that almost befell the Ducks two seasons ago.  Oregon, undefeated and ranked #2 in the country, escaped Berkeley with a 15-13 win, due in large part to a missed field goal by Cal in the second half.  Could this happen again?  Could Cal make a game of it?  It’s not likely — but then again, it’s not impossible either.  Oregon needs to take command of this game early and make it utterly un-interesting by halftime, or else…who knows.

UCLA at SWSU: the Cougars are a train wreck right now, but this game is in the Palouse and the temperature will be in the 20’s.  UCLA needs to do to WSU what Oregon needs to do to Cal: get ahead early and end any drama before it starts.  I’ve watched enough “interesting” games at WSU to know that you can’t take anything for granted.  If the Cougars defense plays like it did against Stanford, an upset is absolutely possible.  Having said that, the 14 point spread seems rather generous to WSU.  If the Bruins play like they’re capable of, this game won’t be remotely close.  We’ll see.

IV. National Roundup

  • Vanderbilt 40, Kentucky 0: when you get shut out at home by Vanderbilt, you’re probably going to lose your job.  Quickly.  Like the next day.  So long, Joker Phillips.
  • Tennessee 55, Troy 48: Derek Dooley won’t lose his job quite as quickly, but he’ll still lose it by the end of the season.
  • Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 13: a huge road win for the Aggies.  Can they put a scare into Alabama this week?  It’s not out of the question, folks.
  • TCU 39, West Virginia 38: the Mountaineer defense has more loopholes than Mitt Romney’s tax plan.
  • Indiana 24, Iowa 21: with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, the Big Ten Leaders division suddenly boils down to this Saturday’s contest between Wisconsin and — INDIANA???  That’s right people: if Indiana wins that game, they have the inside track to the conference title game — even if they finish 5-7.  Stranger things have happened.  (Actually no, stranger things haven’t happened, unless they involve Greta.)
  • San Diego State 21, Boise State 19: and there goes Boise’s string of being ranked in the AP poll every week since 2007.  A landmark victory for the Aztecs: their first road win over a ranked opponent, ever!  (That seems almost impossible to believe.)

That’s all I got.  See you next week.

–Mr. G.

Week 9: Southern Scramble

What a weekend it was in the Pac-12, particularly in the South Division.  The LA schools went on the road to take on the Arizona schools.  The final scores look similar, but don’t be deceived: the quality of the games was quite different.

I. South Action: Top to Bottom

Arizona 39, USC 36: You would think that after a scintillating UCLA victory, I would choose to open this blog post by commenting on the Bruins.  Yet the fact remains that as delighted as I am with the Bruin win, I am absolutely furious with USC’s loss.  To whom much is given, much is expected; but the Trojans, for the second time this season, have failed to deliver.  This particular loss is a killer.  If anything, it is even more inexplicable than the early season dud against Stanford.

If you’re a Trojan backer, you might want to skip past this rant.  If you’re a fan of the macabre, read on.

The initial drives for each team set the tone for the entire game.  Barkley opened by throwing yet another interception to kill a drive in Arizona territory.  Arizona went three-and-out, but a bonehead unsportsmanlike conduct penalty extended the drive and led to a Wildcat touchdown.  After one quarter of play, the Wildcats were up 10-0.

It did not seem to matter, however, because the Wildcat pass defense was completely unable to stop Marqise Lee, who erupted for a staggering 345 yards receiving and had broken the Pac-12 single game receiving mark by halftime.  Lee, it seemed, was single-handedly willing his team to victory.

Yet the underlying malaise and lack of focus and discipline would finally consume the Trojans.  Leading 28-13, with only six minutes to play in the third quarter, and having forced Arizona to punt on two consecutive possessions, the Trojans had the opportunity to ice the game when Robert Woods was wide open down the sideline (the Arizona defender had slipped).  Barkley had all day to throw.  Anyone who knows anything about playing quarterback knows that in such situations, all you have to do is get the ball close to the receiver — even an underthrow is acceptable, since the receiver still has time to wait for the ball.  But no: the ball was overthrown, the chance missed.

Nevertheless, with a 15-point lead and the ball and just over twenty minutes to play, USC still should have won the game.  What happened thereafter shows just how far this team is from being a champion.  In summary, the next eight possessions:

  • USC punt, Arizona TD.
  • USC fumble, Arizona TD.
  • USC turns the ball over on downs; Arizona TD (this included a conversion on 3rd and 22).
  • USC punt, Arizona TD.

With the game, the season, and any shot at the national championship on the line, USC’s offense and defense completely disappeared for 16 minutes.  Thus did a 28-13 lead turn into a 39-28 deficit in the span of just over one quarter.  Ballgame.

How did this happen?  That question is complicated — there are many reasons why — but we can start with the obvious.  USC turned the ball over five times, including two ugly interceptions.  The Trojans committed an abominable 13 penalties to continue to “lead” the nation in that category.  Late in the game, Arizona QB Matt Scott was hit in the helmet by two different defenders at almost the same time — a borderline dirty play that ended up knocking him out of the game.  As stated above, Marqise Lee had a record setting day receiving, but his effort went wasted because no one else on the team picked up the slack.

That last statement leads me to the harshest critique of the 2012 Trojans: NO LEADERSHIP.  During the 16-minute, eight-possession stretch mentioned above, there was no palpable sense of urgency from anyone (save for Marqise Lee) on the USC sideline.  Where was the team leader barking at his teammates to make a play?  Where were the coaches telling their players to wake up?  This is football!  You can’t win this game on talent alone!  You have to play the game physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There is no question that USC is talented physically, but the lack of discipline (mental) combined with the appalling lack of urgency (emotional) can lead to only one conclusion: USC has drastically underachieved.  This was the preseason #1 team, with the prohibitive Heisman favorite and the best receiving tandem in the country, not to mention several outstanding running backs.  The defense was a question mark entering the season, but in fact it is the defense that had been carrying the team in recent weeks.

I am not alone in this assessment.  You can check out CBS Sports for their mid-season discussion of the Pac-12 below.  USC is listed as the most disappointing team — and that was before their loss to Arizona:

http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/blog/college-football-rapidreports/20564167/pac-12-midseason-awards-all-conference-teams

Perhaps this loss could be justified if Arizona had played a perfect game.  They did not.  The Wildcats somehow committed more penalties (14 for an astounding 129 yards) than the Trojans!  They had no pass defense, dropped several passes on offense, had to settle for a field goal after having it first and goal at the 1, and nullified a 27-yard field goal at the end of the first half by getting flagged for holding and missing the 37-yarder.

In other words, USC has absolutely no excuses for this performance.  With a senior QB, experienced backs and receivers, and a solid defense, losing to Arizona in this fashion is beyond inexcusable.  It is disgraceful.

For those of you who think I’m finished, you’re wrong.  It gets worse.  USC has already played the comparatively “easy” part of its schedule, having defeated UW, Utah, Colorado, Cal, Syracuse, and Hawaii — teams that are a combined 18-42 on the year.  None of those teams have winning records.  The only teams USC has played with winning records are 6-2 Stanford and 5-3 Arizona, and they lost both of those games.  What’s next?  Try 8-0 Oregon, 5-3 ASU, 6-2 UCLA, and 8-0 Notre Dame.  USC should win at least two of those games, but so what?  8-4 for the team that was the Pac-12’s best shot to stop the SEC’s reign of dominance?  Even if USC finishes 9-3, that will be a major disappointment.  I suppose 10-2 will allow the Trojans to salvage something of this season; we’ll see if there is any maturity on this team that will allow them to galvanize their tremendous potential in the final four games.  Right now, though, the leadership on the team gets an F.

UCLA 45, Arizona State 43: now THIS was a football game.  Two young, evenly matched teams battled from the outset for the right to be the “challenger” to USC in the South division.  Things started out rough for the Bruins when Steven Manfro fumbled an ASU punt, leading to a short field and quick Sun Devil touchdown.  Having fumbled punts earlier in the season — including in the end zone against Utah — Manfro should not have been allowed to field them during this game; indeed, this error could easily have cost UCLA the game.  UCLA had to punt on its next possession and by the time five minutes had elapsed, ASU had taken a 14-0 lead.

Reason to panic?  Not if you’re Brett Hundley.  UCLA had cut the lead to 17-14 with just over a minute to play in the half.  That’s when ASU, starting from their own 4 yard line, inexplicably gambled on a pass.  Dalton Hilliard said “thank you” with his interception while Johnathan Franklin finished the sentence “very much” with his 5-yard TD on the next play to put the Bruins ahead 21-17 at the break.

The game continued back and forth, both teams playing well with minimal errors, until UCLA had taken a 42-33 lead with nine minutes to play.  ASU marched down the field on its next two possessions, first cutting the lead to six, then taking the lead, 43-42, with 93 seconds to play.

That’s when this happened:

Some things to point out from the finish to this game.

  • Arizona State called two timeouts during this drive, which is hard to explain.
  • Hundley, a redshirt freshman, executed the two-minute drill to near perfection.  Barkley, a senior, botched USC’s two-minute drill vs. Arizona, wasting precious seconds and thereby costing his team a chance for a game-tying field goal.
  • Noah, unbeknownst to me, magically teleported himself to the finish of this contest in time to congratulate Fairbairn on his winning kick.  (See him at the 2:56 mark in the video.)  For this dedication, Noah deserves to be rewarded; therefore, although I disagree on principle, I am going to vote Yes on Proposition 30 to thank him for his wizardry.

This game obviously could have gone either way, but what makes this game noteworthy is how well both teams played — few penalties, few turnovers, no mental breakdowns — a stark contrast to the poorly played USC-Arizona game.

For those of you who think I am a Bruin homer and will use these results to justify why UCLA is going to beat USC this season, think again.  USC is still the better team — on paper — and should win again — on paper.  But if USC plays as stupidly as they did last Saturday, they aren’t going to win ANY of their remaining games.  On the other hand, UCLA remains the wild card team in the division.  You never know what you’re going to get with a wild card team.  UCLA’s remaining games — vs. Arizona, at WSU, vs. USC, vs. Stanford — could go any which way.  The Bruins could end up 6-6, or they could end up 10-2.  But this team is showing improvement week to week, and by winning on the road in a difficult environment and committing very few mental mistakes, there is genuine cause for optimism in Westwood.  This victory also helps erase the memory of UCLA’s 48-12 loss at Arizona last season, a game which marked the low point of the Neuheisel era.  (If USC’s effort this week against Arizona was disgraceful, UCLA’s performance in last year’s game against the Wildcats was unconscionable.)  I do not see UCLA suffering any meltdowns with Mora as head coach.  If you’re going to beat the Bruins, you’re going to have to beat the Bruins, because they’re not going to beat themselves.  USC should take a lesson.

Oregon 70, Colorado 14: seriously, do I have to comment on this?  It was 56-0 at the half.

Utah 49, Dumb Cal 27: the Golden Bears lost the turnover battle and gave up two 100-yard kickoff returns to Reggie Dunn to lose convincingly in Salt Lake City.  To make it to a bowl game, Cal must defeat Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington.  If you can’t beat Utah, you ain’t winning those three.  Retirement beckons, Mr. Tedford.

II. Northern Exposure: Cardinal, Huskies Survive

Stanford 24, WSU 17: Stanford continues to unimpress, escaping with a 7-point victory over lowly WSU despite just 13 first downs and 256 total yards.  Stanford now has four wins by 7 points or fewer and is lucky to be 6-2.  With remaining games against Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA, the Card will be hard pressed to get to nine wins this season.

Washington 20, Oregon State 17: yep, I saw this one coming.  Oregon State pressed hard from a 10-0 halftime deficit, but lost several key players on offense (receiver Markus Wheaton, running back Storm Woods) en route to an unfortunate loss in Seattle.  The culprit: four interceptions by QB Sean Mannion, who had just returned from minor knee surgery.  The Beavers are still a better team than Washington — the Huskies managed under 300 yards on the night, while Oregon State topped 400 — but that many mistakes on the road will cost you.

III. Power Rankings: Full Conference

I have been giving out conference power rankings by division this season, but this time I’m going to rank all teams 1-12.

  • 1. Oregon. No question about it: this team is the class of the conference.
  • 2. Oregon State, USC.  The Beavers will have to bounce back from their tough loss to regain their footing on the season.  USC keeps the top spot in the South only because no other team is clearly better. Yet.
  • 4. UCLA, ASU, Arizona, Stanford.  These teams are very different, but in head-to-head matches on neutral sites, each game would be a virtual pick ’em.  Stanford’s offense has been poor and the Cardinal are on the downturn.  ASU is close to being back.  Arizona is perhaps the best 5-3 team in the nation.  UCLA is still the wildcard, but the win at ASU is starting to make me a believer.
  • 8. Utah.  A team on its own island: better than the four teams below it, but not as good as any of the teams above.
  • 9. Washington.  Yes, they have beaten Stanford and Oregon State, so one would think they deserve to be higher, right?  Not in my book.  Both of those wins were flukey.  Maybe the Huskies should be higher than Utah, but I’m just not sold on UW this season.  I think Utah turned the corner in their win over Cal and could finish the season on a high note, much like they did last season after an 0-4 start in conference.
  • 10. WSU.  How can I put a winless conference team in 10th place?  Simple: a good outing against Stanford.  WSU also was close against Oregon, on the road, at halftime, so this team does have some talent.
  • 11. Cal.  Dead man walking.
  • 12. Colorado.  Dead man.  Not walking.

IV. Week 10 Previews

Arizona at UCLA: who would have guessed that this game would upstage Oregon vs. USC as the conference game of the week?  But it does, and if you’re only going to watch one game this weekend, this is the game to watch.  Both teams are coming off huge victories that went down to the final play.  Arizona can score with anyone and could run over UCLA if they’re hitting on all cylinders.  But the Wildcat defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone all season, so even if UCLA gives up 40 points, they could still win this game — just as they did against ASU.

So what’s the call — Bruins or Wildcats?  Honestly I have no idea.  Arizona has to play a bit more intelligently than they did against USC, because UCLA is not going to match the Wildcat penalty total.  But UCLA’s defense is going to have a tough time stopping Matt Scott and Company, the Pac-12’s leading offense.  I give no prediction for this game except to say that it is a must-see event for anyone that enjoys college football.  The stakes: momentum, a Top 25 ranking, and a share of the lead in the Pac-12 South.  Who could ask for more?

Oregon at USC: last year, USC walked into Eugene and, in spite of my prediction, walked out of there with the biggest win in the Lane Kiffin era.  That was a monumental upset for the Trojans, and it knocked Oregon out of a potential rematch with LSU in the national title game.  But that was 2011, and this year’s USC team is not playing nearly as well as last year’s team, and for that reason I am picking Oregon to win.  USC is the home team this time, but all the intangibles favor for the Ducks (revenge for Oregon, potential let down for USC after the deflating loss to Arizona).

Can USC win the game?  Of course they can — they did it last year on the road.  Do I want USC to win?  Heck no.  I was backing the Trojans to represent the conference all the way to the title game this year, but after two disastrous losses, that mantle now belongs to the Ducks.  I hope this game is over early, with Oregon winning by at least three TD’s to secure its foothold as the best team in the country not named Alabama.

Arizona State at Oregon State: a crucial bounce back game for both teams, who suffered difficult losses last weekend.  ASU needs a win to push back any negative thoughts of a repeat of last season’s disastrous collapse.  OSU needs to get back on track at home so that their season-ending contest against the Ducks really means something.  It’s strength against strength as ASU’s offense goes up against a stout Beaver defense.  If Oregon State is healthy and avoids turnovers, the Beavers should win this game in Corvallis.

Washington at Dumb Cal: Tedford’s Last Stand.  Lose this game, and Cal is guaranteed to finish below .500.  UW doesn’t strike me as anything close to impressive, though, so who knows?  Someone has to win, so take your pick…I’m guessing the final score is 13-10.

Stupid Washington State at Utah: bad timing for the Cougars, who played a good game against Stanford but will now face a rejuvenated Utah squad in Salt Lake City.  The game may not be pretty, but I expect Utah to win, and handily.

Stanford at Colorado: good timing for the Cardinal, who are not playing especially well on offense.  But anyone can play well against Colorado, and Stanford will move to 7-2 before hitting the gauntlet of Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA to close out the season.

V. Finishing Up: Around the Nation

  • Louisville moves to 8-0 after an overtime victory over Cincinnati.  No one will mistake the Cardinals for the other five remaining undefeated teams, however (except maybe Ohio State).  Charlie Strong has done a sensational job at Louisville, but they would lose a head-to-head matchup with anyone ranked in the top four.
  • South Carolina upends Tennessee 38-35 to send the Vols to their third straight 0-5 start in SEC play.  Mr. Dooley, meet Mr. Tedford.
  • Texas escapes Kansas with a 21-17 win after backup Case McCoy leads the Horns to the winning score with 12 seconds to play, barely averting disaster for Mack Brown.
  • Georgia defeats Florida 17-9 — or rather, Florida defeats Florida, 6-0.  (That’s six turnovers for the Gators.)  Goodbye undefeated season.  Florida’s offense is still a complete mess.
  • Miami of Ohio knocks Ohio from the ranks of the unbeaten, 23-20.
  • Similarly, Kent State (huh?) removes Rutgers from the list of undefeated teams, 35-23.
  • Kansas State led Texas Tech 13-10 at the half.  Final score: Wildcats 55, Red Raiders 24.  Wildcats reign supreme; Collin Klein for Heisman.
  • Ohio State moves to (ugh) 9-0 with their 35-23 win at Penn State.  Illinois certainly will not defeat the Buckeyes next week.  If Wisconsin or Michigan can’t take them out, OSU will finish 12-0 and become one of those mysterious undefeated teams that floats through history with no post season play — a dreadful thought.
  • Texas A&M annihilates Auburn — in Auburn! — 63-21 to send the Tigers to 1-7.  Can this possibly be the same team that won the national championship just two seasons ago?
  • Alabama churns out yet another ho-hum victory, this time dispatching #13 Mississippi State 38-7.  If they do the same thing at LSU on Saturday, this could be one of the great football teams of all time.  Yes, they are — or at least appear to be — that good.
  • Notre Dame surprised many people — particularly yours truly, who expected the Sooners to thrash the Irish — by executing their game plan to near perfection in defeating Oklahoma in Norman, 30-13.  The Irish outscored the Sooners 17-0 over the final 9:10 to wrap things up.  They committed no turnovers and had only one penalty.  You paying attention USC?  That’s how you play winning football.

To conclude this week’s post, after much ranting and raving on my end, I offer the sublime.

It’s North Carolina vs. North Carolina State.  Rivalry game par excellence.  30 seconds to play.  Tie score.  Watch:

You gotta love it.

Until next week,

Mr. G.

Week 8: State of Oregon Reigns Supreme

Welcome back everyone.  This is the last of the catch-up blogs; after this I can finally watch these games live again.

I. Eugene and Corvallis Take Center Stage

The Pac-12 balance of power rests squarely in the state of Oregon this season.  The Ducks and Beavers are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the conference, and they could be headed to a winner-take-all Civil War in November.  Let’s take a look at how these two teams fared last week.

Oregon 43, Arizona State 21: relatively close, right? Wrong. Oregon was ahead of ASU by a score of 43-7 after less than twenty minutes.  Had the Ducks continued at this pace (i.e. allowing their starters to play the entire game), the final score would have been 129-21. Don’t laugh. Oregon’s offense could do whatever it wanted right now — and they did, on the road, against what had been the conference’s leading defense. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.

Oregon State 21, Utah 7: this one was all about defense. Although the Beavers were held to 226 total yards, the offense did the smart thing: they did not give the ball away. Utah did, four times, and that was enough to propel Oregon State to its first 6-0 start since 1907, when the school was known as Oregon Agricultural College. You’ve come a long way, Beaver.

II. Rest of the Pac

UCLA and WSU had byes.

USC 50, Colorado 6: Colorado had more first downs and won the time of possession battle. Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, they lost every other statistical category, including a disastrous six turnovers. USC was so efficient in this game that they scored 50 points on just 48 plays! Barkley went 19-of-20 (the lone incompletion a drop by McNeal) to cruise to a 33-6 halftime lead. So is the Trojan offense back on track? Not yet. After all, this was Colorado.

Stanford 21, Cal 3: oh, how I wish this Cal team had showed up against UCLA. The Bears were held to a pathetic 3 net yards rushing — for the entire game — and managed nothing more than a field goal in losing the 115th Big Game. Stanford keeps the Axe for a third straight season. Jeff Tedford will not likely keep his job at the end of this season.

Arizona 52, Washington 17: well well well, what have we here? The Wildcats, who have played a difficult schedule this season, came off a bye week well rested and ready to go. The Huskies, who have played an even more difficult schedule, were just plain battered. The result? A runaway victory by Arizona, which is much better than its 4-3 record would indicate. Although the ‘Cats are just 1-3 in conference, two of those losses were to Stanford (overtime) and Oregon State (final minute). I would not want to play this team right now.

III. Pac Power Rankings + Commentary

South

1. USC. Despite the offensive inconsistency, the Trojans are still the team to beat in the South.

2. ASU. You couldn’t keep up with Oregon? Neither can anyone else.

3. Arizona. The ‘Cats get the nod for the #3 spot over UCLA because they are two plays away from being 6-1.

4. UCLA. As stated in last week’s blog, the Bruins are the wild card team in the conference.

5. Utah. The defense remains strong, but the offense just can’t get it together.

6. Colorado. 1-11 anyone?

North

1. Oregon. Not only are they the best team in the conference, they are arguably the best team in the nation. I have the Ducks on a par with Alabama and Kansas State at the moment.

2. Oregon State. Why is this team ranked below Notre Dame? The Beavers have been far more impressive (compare their 42-24 win at BYU with a second string QB vs. the Irish’s 17-14 home win over the Cougars this week) and deserve to be at least #5 in the nation. I’m OK with Florida in the #4 spot, but Oregon State should be #5, with the Irish at #6. Everyone else with one loss needs to wait in line.

3. Stanford. The defense has come to play the past two weeks, proving that the effort against Arizona was an aberration. The Cardinal therefore take over the #3 spot in the North.

4. Washington. The Huskies take a big fall to a weak #4 position. Their win over Stanford looks more and more like a fluke. Sarkisian has been given time, but he needs to show some results. UW not looking good right now.

5. Cal. I don’t know if the Bears can get to .500 this season. Even if they do, can Tedford survive?

6. Washington State. Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year. I understand that transitioning to a new offensive system will take time, but no one expected the Cougars to be THIS bad on offense.

IV. On Deck

FINALLY! A complete docket of conference games this weekend — and all of them on Saturday, with no byes, and none of this ridiculous Thursday night garbage.

Colorado at Oregon: the best hosts the worst. Oregon wins by as many points as they wish.

WSU at Stanford: if WSU avoids turnovers, it is not entirely out of the question they could stay relatively close in this game. Stanford’s offense hasn’t been impressive. Their defense, however, has been, and I expect the Cardinal to win another ho-hum, “boring” game that’s over by the half — just the way David Shaw likes it.

Cal at Utah: the Desperation Bowl. Cal wants to remain in the hunt for a bowl game. Utah is looking for its first conference win this season. This could get ugly. I don’t know what the over-under is, but if you’re a betting person, take the under.

And now for the good games:

USC at Arizona. Arizona’s offense has explosive potential, but their defense has been weak. USC’s offense also has explosive potential, but their defense has been solid. Arizona’s only chance is to outscore the Trojans in the high 30’s or 40’s. USC need only hold Arizona to 28 points or fewer. Advantage: Trojans.

Oregon State at Washington: from 1975 to 2000, Oregon State lost 23 out of 24 times to UW. How things have changed! The Beavers have won 7 of the last 8 meetings and look to continue that trend in Seattle. But this game is going to be tough: Oregon State was not sharp on offense against Utah last week, and Washington will play as if (or perhaps because) their season depends on it. The Beavers are going to have to take care of the football and avoid mistakes if they are to move to 7-0. This could be the game of the week.

UCLA at Arizona State: the battle for the #2 spot in the South comes down to this game. Don’t pay any attention to ASU’s loss to Oregon last Thursday. That was Oregon; this is UCLA. The Bruins will have to play smart to have a chance. ASU will be out to prove that last week’s misadventure was a one-time freak show. I expect the Sun Devils to win this game at home, setting up a big game at the Coliseum vs. USC for the division lead. If the Bruins somehow pull it out, though, I will have to admit that the team is way ahead of schedule. Given the team’s youth and inconsistency, however, I don’t expect that to happen.

V. Finishing Up: Around the Nation

SMU defeats Houston 72-42. Enough with these basketball scores already….

Ohio State squeaks by Purdue, 29-22, in overtime. I can’t believe the Buckeyes are still undefeated. Please, PLEASE someone beat this team.

LSU holds on to win on the road, 24-19, over Texas A&M. Both teams are playing good football this season, particularly the Aggies, who are much improved over last year.

Vanderbilt defeats Auburn 17-13 to send the reeling Tigers to 1-6.

Florida upends South Carolina by the picturesque score of 44-11. The Gators are 7-0 and control their own destiny in the national title hunt. If they can defeat Georgia this weekend, they will likely be 11-0 entering their season finale against Florida State. Tantalizing….

Louisville moves to 7-0 by hanging on at home over South Florida, 27-25.

Michigan uses four field goals to win a defensive struggle over Michigan State, 12-10.

Texas Tech wins a triple overtime thriller on the road against TCU, 56-53, to set up a titanic showdown in Manhattan against Kansas State.

Notre Dame barely defeats BYU 17-14, but moves to 7-0 nevertheless. I expect the Irish to get pummeled at Oklahoma this weekend, though.

Duke becomes BOWL ELIGIBLE (?!!) by defeating North Carolina 36-33. This should make national news. Seriously, Duke?

Georgia has just enough to finish off Kentucky, 29-24, in Lexington. If they play like that against Florida this weekend, it could get ugly fast.

The Football Factory (aka Alabama) humbles Tennessee, 44-13, in Knoxville. No big whoop. Just another day at the office for Saban and Co. (Good luck stopping the Tide right now.)

The Glass Bowl claims another victim — this time, previously undefeated Cincinnati, who falls to Toledo, 29-23. I give myself full credit for this victory, since I made a point of pointing out the Glass Bowl in previous blog posts. So there.

Kansas State puts on perhaps the most impressive performance of the day, not only scoring 55 points in Morgantown, but more significantly, shutting down Geno Smith and the Mountaineer offense. West Virginia was held to one offensive touchdown (in the 4th quarter, well after the game was decided). With the 55-14 victory, Kansas State positions itself as a legitimate #1 team, and Collin Klein stands head and shoulders above the rest of the field — at present — for Heisman consideration.

Oklahoma spanks hapless Kansas, 52-7, in Norman. I don’t expect them to have as easy a time against Notre Dame this weekend, but the result should be the same: another Sooner victory.

Southern Miss loses to Marshall, 59-24, at home, to fall to 0-7. This is the same team that won the Conference USA championship last year, finished #19 in the country, and won 12 games. Isn’t it?

Florida State runs by Miami, 33-20, to hand the Hurricanes their fourth loss of the season. Let’s hope more are coming so that when the NCAA sanctions hit, Miami will be even worse off than they are now. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Penn State moves to 5-2 with a dominating 38-14 win over Iowa in Iowa City. Kirk Ferentz may be in really hot water. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have turned things around magnificently after an 0-2 start.

Texas 56, Baylor 50. Good grief. Is defense really optional in the Big 12? Neither of these teams belongs in the national discussion. Yo Longhorns: PLAY SOME D.

Enough already.

–Mr. G.