October 10, 2009

Winners and losers: 'Horns brace for OU, Bradford

Sam Bradford is back. And that makes next Saturday's Oklahoma-Texas game much more intriguing.

In his first action since being injured in the Sooners' season-opening loss to BYU, Bradford guided OU to a dominating 33-7 win over Baylor. Bradford was 27 of 49 passing for 386 yards and a touchdown, which came in the fourth quarter. The 49 attempts matched the second-most he had thrown in a game, proving that Bradford's damaged shoulder could take the workload.

"I think that's something that we were all curious around here, how I would react to 3 1/2-4 hours in my pads, on and off, not throwing the whole time, kind of sitting on the bench, coming back and making some throws," Bradford told reporters afterward. "I felt like my arm responded great, and I felt good out there."

Bradford had missed three games after injuring his right (throwing) shoulder in the opener. The Sooners crushed Idaho State and Tulsa but fell at Miami last week, all with redshirt freshman Landry Jones at quarterback. With Bradford back, the Sooners pose a much bigger threat to second-ranked Texas, which beat Colorado on Saturday night.

"To have been off as much as he has and go out there in his first go at it - to play as well as he did, I thought he played great," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He stays away from the poor, the negative plays or the bad plays, and he had a great night.

"If you add in seven, eight, nine drops - you could cut that and say there's five legitimate that are dead-right in their hands - he has an incredible night."

Now comes the next test. The Red River Shootout has been the premier matchup for most of this decade. In the past nine seasons, the winner often has used the game as a springboard to playing in the national title game. Oklahoma beat Texas and played for the BCS championship in 2000, '03 and '04, winning the BCS title in 2000. The Longhorns played for the title after beating Oklahoma in 2005. The Sooners managed to play for the title last season even though they lost to Texas.

That's four national championship game appearances and two titles from the winner of this game this decade.

The stakes won't be as high for two-loss Oklahoma when the teams meet next Saturday in the ancient Cotton Bowl. But Texas must win to stay on track to play for the title. The Longhorns will be favored in every game left on their schedule. The scariest games after next week's? A trip to Oklahoma State on Oct. 31 and a visit from Kansas on Nov. 21.

Texas will be coming in off a 38-14 victory over Colorado. Texas looked uneven on offense, inflating the score with a defensive touchdown and two special teams scores. Colt McCoy complete 32 of 39 passes for 265 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Texas got a big lift from its defense, which was dominating in limiting the Buffaloes to 132 yards.

While Oklahoma has been tested by some good teams, Texas hasn't been tested in beating Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, Texas Tech, UTEP and Colorado.

Texas failed to quell fears about its inability to run, gaining only 45 yards on 25 carries (1.8 yard per carry) against a Colorado defense that had been awful against the run. Texas will be facing a Sooners team that can play loose and have fun. That makes Oklahoma dangerous, so Texas better beware.

The largest contingent of Bradford and OU fans next week may be USC and Virginia Tech, which would get a boost in their attempts to make it to the national title game if Texas falls.

WINNERS

Alabama: The best way to describe the Tide's 22-3 win at Ole Miss is "workmanlike." Alabama remains unbeaten and the nation's top team in my book. Pencil in 12 regular-season wins and a spot in the SEC title game.

Florida: Tim Tebow was cleared to play by doctors earlier in the day, and he delivered in a 13-3 victory at LSU, which had won 32 consecutive Saturday night home games. Tebow was 11 of 15 passing for 132 yards, with a touchdown and interception, and he also ran effectively. But it was the Gators' defense that was the real star, holding LSU to 161 yards, with just 63 coming on the ground.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes methodically wore down Michigan in a 30-28 win to remain unbeaten and in first place in the Big Ten. It's the Hawkeyes' league to win. Everyone is pointing toward Iowa's game at Ohio State on Nov. 14 as the showdown for the conference championship. By the way: Is Ricky Stanzi, who completed 20 of 38 passes for 281 yards and two TDs, the best quarterback in the Big Ten?

Louisville: Did any coach need a win more than Steve Kragthorpe? The Cardinals' 25-23 triumph over Southern Miss was UL's second victory of the year and its first over a FBS school.

Texas Tech: So much for the Red Raiders being limited by using a backup quarterback with Taylor Potts out with a concussion. Steven Sheffield stepped in and threw for 490 yards and seven touchdowns in his first career start in 66-14 rout of Kansas State.

Houston: How did the Cougars win 31-24 at Mississippi State a week after getting hammered 58-41 at UTEP? That's three victories over Big Six schools for Houston.

Lane Kiffin: This is what Tennessee was hoping for when it hired "The Mouth of the South." Kiffin notched SEC win No. 1 with an impressive 45-19 thumping of Georgia.

Jonathan Crompton: That's right, two Tennessee items on this list. Hat's off to the maligned Vols' quarterback, who was 20 of 27 passing for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

North Carolina: What's the elixir for an ailing team that had scored a combined 10 points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia? A FCS foe. Thanks for visiting Chapel Hill, Georgia Southern. Sorry about that 42-12 whipping.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys, without Dez Bryant, gritted out a 36-31 win at Texas A&M.

Oregon: Another impressive win for the Ducks, who went to UCLA and thumped the Bruins, 24-10 with defense and special teams. Since LeGarrette Blount's meltdown after the opening loss at Boise State, Oregon has won five in a row and is in the driver's seat in the Pac-10. USC's visit to Eugene on Halloween means something.

Pittsburgh: If not for blowing a 31-17 lead at N.C. State two weeks ago in a 38-31 loss, the Panthers would be unbeaten. As it is, Pitt is 5-1 and thinking Big East title after a comeback victory at home over Connecticut.

Virginia: With a second victory in a row - this time over hapless Indiana - the seat under Al Groh's fanny has gone from an inferno to just a roaring blaze.

LOSERS

Auburn: That sound you just heard was reality crashing down on the Tigers. Auburn suffered its first loss of the season, falling behind 34-3 in what was 44-23 drubbing at Arkansas. Auburn's defense? It's not good, allowing 495 yards. That is why so many were so hesitant to rank Auburn.

Ball State: Last year, the Cardinals were a college football darling, jetting to a 12-0 start and their first national ranking. This year, Ball State is 0-6 after Saturday's loss at Temple.

Illinois, Indiana and Purdue: Welcome to the Bermuda Triangle of Big Ten football. The Illini got dumped at home by Michigan State (24-14), the Boilers got smoked at Minnesota (35-20) and the Hoosiers got hammered at Virginia (47-7).

Georgia: The Bulldogs gained only 241 yards in getting beat 45-19, at Tennessee. Remember when this team was a preseason No. 1 in 2008? When did Mark Richt become Ray Goff?

Ole Miss: The Rebels were smothered by Alabama, scoring just three points and gaining only 193 yards. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead was just 11 of 35 passing for 140 yards, with four interceptions. Say goodbye to that No. 20 ranking. Say hello to the Liberty Bowl.

Texas A&M: A&M got drubbed by Arkansas last week and dumped by Oklahoma State this week. Thank goodness for upcoming games against Kansas State, Colorado and Iowa State.

Vanderbilt: You lose to Army, you never get off this list.

UCLA: The Bruins' 3-0 start has morphed into 3-2 record following a 24-10 home loss to Oregon. UCLA's offense? It netted just 211 yards even with Kevin Prince back at quarterback.

LSU: The Tigers fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 13-3 home loss to Florida. LSU really isn't that good. Sure, the Tigers still control their destiny in the SEC West. But to win the division, LSU would have to beat Alabama. And there's no way that's happening with an inconsistent offense.

Stanford: All of that momentum from a three-game winning streak that included victories over Washington and UCLA was extinguished in a 38-28 loss at Oregon State. The Cardinal was 3-0 in the Pac-10 and in control of the league. No longer.

HOT SEAT

Mark Richt, Georgia. Following a 45-19 loss at Tennessee, Georgia is 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC. And there are games remaining against Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Offense (it was No. 10 in the SEC entering the weekend), defense (No. 11 in the SEC), you name it - Georgia stinks.

TOP STORY LINES FOR NEXT WEEK

Will Charlie Weis finally get the signature victory that has eluded him since arriving under the Golden Dome in 2005? USC's visit is the lone marquee foe remaining on the Irish's schedule. So, it's now or never for the 2009 season.

The Red River Rivalry is here. This season's edition has lost some luster with Oklahoma having two losses. If Texas passes this test, it should march to a 12-0 regular-season finish and a spot in the BCS title game.

Is South Carolina for real? Some feel this may be Steve Spurrier's best team in Columbia. The Gamecocks have won four in a row and are 5-1 overall. But a trip to Alabama will serve as the ultimate measuring stick.

Cincinnati at South Florida. It's fitting that what may be the premier Big East game of the year will have a captive national audience Thursday night. Both squads are unbeaten and thinking big. Which quarterback will make the plays? Cincinnati's Tony Pike or USF's B.J. Daniels ?

Dienhart's weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Florida
Glad I'm not him: Mark Richt, Georgia
Lucky guy: Mark Mangino, Kansas
Poor guy: Rich Brooks, Kentucky
Desperately seeking a clue: Bill Lynch, Indiana
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Alabama
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Georgia
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Boston College
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Duke
They're good: Virginia Tech
They're bad: Purdue
Did the season start? Texas A&M
Can the season end? Ole Miss
Can the season never end? Iowa
GAMES
Play this again: Kansas 41, Iowa State 36
Never play this again: Texas Tech 66, Kansas State 14
Are you kidding me? Tennessee 45, Georgia 19
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: USC at Notre Dame
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Miami at UCF
Best non-Big Six matchup: Colorado State at TCU
Upset alert: Oklahoma over Texas in Dallas
Must win: Notre Dame over USC in South Bend
Offensive explosion: Missouri at Oklahoma State
Defensive struggle: California at UCLA
Great game no one is talking about: Cincinnati at South Florida (Thursday)
Intriguing coaching matchup: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier vs. Alabama's Nick Saban
Why are they playing? UAB at Ole Miss
Plenty of good seats remaining: Illinois at Indiana

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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