October 31, 2009

Winners and losers: Tebow, Gators rebound

Tim Tebow is firmly back in the Heisman race, and Florida is legitimately the No. 1 team in the nation.

Those points became clear after Saturday's 41-17 victory over rival Georgia. Tebow again looked like Superman, sparking the Gators to their 17th win in the last 20 games against the Bulldogs. Florida has beaten UGA by an aggregate score of 90-27 over the past two seasons.

This was the performance the nation had been waiting for from Tebow, who had endured an uneven season in his push to win a second Heisman. Entering the game, Tebow was the No. 1-rated quarterback in the SEC, but he had slumped since coming back from a concussion suffered at Kentucky on Sept. 26.

Against Georgia, Tebow completed 15 of 21 passes for 163 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran 18 times for a team-high 85 yards and two touchdowns. Tebow became the SEC's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 51.

Tebow's production was vastly improved over his showings in preceding victories over LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State. In those games, Tebow completed just 40 of 64 passes for 516 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran 62 times for only 195 yards with one touchdown.

Yes, Tebow and Florida were winning, but they weren't impressive. If not for the continued outstanding play from one of the nation's top defenses, the Gators easily could have suffered a loss and seen their hopes of winning a third national title in four years end. Now, Florida - which has won a national-best 18 games in a row - looks like the top team in the country. The Gators are on course for a mega showdown with Alabama in the SEC title game.

Florida finished with 371 yards, dominating on the ground with 208 yards rushing. And the Gators limited Georgia to 286 yards, picking off four Bulldogs passes.

The Heisman 5
Turnovers have been an issue. Prior to today, Tebow had committed more turnovers (8) than he did in 2007 (6) or 2008 (6). He also was sacked 15 times, which equaled the number of times he was taken down in 2008 in 14 games. But Tebow tossed no interceptions Saturday and was sacked just once.

Where does Georgia go from here? The loss drops the Bulldogs to 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the SEC, casting more doubt on the direction of the program under Mark Richt.

It looks like Richt will have to shake up his staff, perhaps hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators. Entering the game, the Bulldogs ranked 90th in the nation in offense and 70th in defense.

For Florida, it's time to build momentum toward the end of the year. Vanderbilt visits next week before a dangerous game at South Carolina. But this win over Georgia should buoy the Gators' confidence.

WINNERS

Auburn: The Tigers ripped Ole Miss, 33-20, to end a three-game losing streak. Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn got the best of his former boss at Arkansas, Houston Nutt.

Duke: The Blue Devils have won three in a row following a 28-17 win at Virginia. Two more victories, and Duke will be bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.

Florida State: The offense is alive and well in Tallahassee, with the latest effort producing a 45-42 win over N.C. State. Too bad the smallest home crowd since 1993 was on hand to witness it.

Christian Ponder: Is it time to start including him on Heisman watch lists? Ponder continued an impressive season by completing 26 of 40 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown against the Wolfpack.

Illinois: Finally, the Fighting Illini recorded their first win over a FBS foe, toppling Michigan, 38-13. Now comes the difficult part: developing consistency.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes aren't all that impressive, other than their record. They had to rally from a 24-14 deficit entering the fourth quarter to pull out a victory over Indiana. It was the fourth time this year the Hawkeyes have had to rally in the fourth quarter. Iowa improved to 9-0.

Case Keenum: Is the Houston quarterback the Heisman leader? He completed 43 of 53 passes for a career-high 559 yards with five touchdowns in a 50-43 win over Southern Miss that moved the Cougars to 7-1.

California: That's three wins in a row for the Bears, who downed Arizona State, 23-21. Cal has scored a combined 117 points in three wins after scoring only six points in consecutive losses.

Cincinnati: Backup quarterback Zach Collaros tossed four touchdown passes while subbing for injured starter Tony Pike to lead the Bearcats to a 28-7 win at Syracuse as Cincinnati ran its record to 8-0. The program is one win away from its best start in school history. The Bearcats are the only team in the nation not to lose a fumble.

Miami: The Hurricanes rallied for a 28-27 win at Wake Forest, setting up what should be a run of five wins in a row to end the season. If not for that overtime home loss to Clemson last week, big things could have loomed.

Missouri: The Tigers - 36-17 victors over sinking Colorado - will take any win after opening with a 0-3 Big 12 record. Mizzou still lacks a quality win.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers needed a win badly after losing two in a row - including last week's humiliating 9-7 home loss to Iowa State. Nebraska was fueled by first-time starting quarterback Cody Green, who took over for Zac Lee. Green completed 12 of 21 passes for 128 yards for a team that had scored a combined 17 points in its previous two games.

South Florida: Coming off back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the Bulls whipped West Virginia 30-19 on Friday. Credit redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, who had struggled in recent weeks but threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 104 yards.

Temple: The Owls' 27-24 win over Navy moves Temple to 6-2, making the program bowl eligible. The Owls haven't been in the postseason since the 1979 Garden State Bowl. With one more victory, Temple will clinch its first winning season since going 7-4 in 1990.

Texas A&M: A 35-10 home win over Iowa State was the Aggies' second in a row. And a game against Colorado looms. This program just may get to a bowl.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' bowl hopes remain alive after a 31-24 victory at Kentucky. Credit senior running back Anthony Dixon, who ran for a school single-game record 252 yards.

Tennessee: The Vols earned respect in close losses at Florida and Alabama. A 31-13 win over South Carolina is better validation of the program's future in what is the biggest win in Lane Kiffin's first season. How good is Tennessee going to be when Kiffin gets a roster stocked with his players?

Texas: The Longhorns didn't need any rally to defeat Oklahoma State this season, taking a 41-14 blowout. The Longhorns figure to cruise through the rest of their regular-season schedule, with games against UCF, Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions remain one of the top one-loss teams in the nation following a 34-13 win at Northwestern. Penn State is poised for an 11-1 finish that could net an at-large BCS bid.

Utah: The Utes improved to 7-1 with a 22-10 win over Wyoming. Utah plays at TCU on Nov. 14.

LOSERS

Baylor: Down to its third-string quarterback, the Bears fell 20-10 at Nebraska. The Bears haven't beaten the Huskers since 1956.

Central Michigan: The Chippewas had a great chance to move into the polls for the first time in school history and score a defining victory, but CMU lost 31-10 at Boston College.

Colorado: A 36-17 home loss to Missouri likely spelled the end of the Dan Hawkins' era.

Iowa State: Back to reality for the Cyclones. Last week, nine points was enough to win at Nebraska. This week, 10 points got Iowa State clobbered. The Cyclones fell 35-10 at Texas A&M.

Michigan: It's going from bad to worse for Rich Rodriguez, whose team's 38-13 loss to lowly Illinois is Michigan's fourth in the past five games. And the lone win in that stretch was over FCS member Delaware State. The Wolverines are 1-4 in the Big Ten with games left against Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes' 45-0 whipping of New Mexico State was less than stellar. Terrelle Pryor completed 11 of 23 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown.

Ole Miss: Remember when the Rebels ranked No. 4 in the nation? A 33-20 loss at Auburn seems to point the Rebels toward the Independence Bowl.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies' offense has struggled most of the year and was bad in a 20-17 home loss to North Carolina on Thursday. Tech totaled just 256 yards and 11 first downs. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed just 11 of 23 passes for 161 yards and was sacked three times.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons' season may have teetered over the edge after they blew a 27-14 lead in a 28-27 loss to Miami. It was Wake's third loss in a row and damages its bowl hopes.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers' Big East title dreams took a big hit in a 30-19 loss at South Florida. It's the third time in four years USF has helped spoil WVU's season.

Kansas: The Jayhawks' 42-21 loss at Texas Tech was their third in a row after a 5-0 start. KU lost four fumbles and quarterback Todd Reesing had his worst game of the season, going 20 of 35 passing for just 181 yards.

Michigan State: The Spartans lost three in a row, won three in a row and now have lost two in a row with a wild 42-34 defeat at Minnesota. This looks like a 6-6 team at best.

Oklahoma State: It's 12 losses in a row and counting for the Cowboys against Texas following a 41-14 drubbing in Stillwater.

UCLA: The Bruins fell 26-19 at Oregon State. It was UCLA's fifth Pac-10 loss in a row, matching the school's worst start ever in league play.

HOT SEAT

Tom O'Brien, N.C. State: The Wolfpack have seen a 3-1 start - which included a victory over Pittsburgh - turn into a 3-5 record. A 45-42 loss at Florida State was N.C. State's fourth in a row. Spotty defense has been at the heart of the Wolfpack's struggles.

TOP STORY LINES FOR NEXT WEEK

LSU at Alabama. Without a doubt, the Tigers' trip to Tuscaloosa is the top game of next week. The winner basically locks up the SEC West. Which offense can make enough plays? By the way: Nick Saban is 1-1 against his former team.

Another upset? USC must be wary wading into Sun Devil Stadium to play a dangerous Arizona State team that has the best defense you never hear about. And it will be an angry and hungry ASU squad coming off a home loss to Cal against a USC team that basically has been eliminated from the Pac-10 race.

Dienhart's weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Mack Brown, Texas
Glad I'm not him: Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Lucky guy: Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Poor guy: Bill Lynch, Indiana
Desperately seeking a clue: Mark Richt, Georgia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Gary Patterson, TCU
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Florida
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Michigan State
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Oklahoma State
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Illinois
They're good: Cincinnati
They're bad: Colorado
Did the season start? Washington State
Can the season end? N.C. State
Can the season never end? Oregon
GAMES
Play this again: Iowa 42, Indiana 24
Never play this again: Wisconsin 37, Purdue 0
Oh ... my ... God: Illinois 38, Michigan 13
Told you so: Oregon 47, USC 20
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: LSU at Alabama
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Virginia Tech at East Carolina (Thursday)
Best non-Big Six matchup: BYU at Wyoming
Upset alert: Oregon at Stanford
Must win: Clemson over Florida State at Clemson
Offensive explosion: Kansas at Kansas State
Defensive struggle: Washington at UCLA
Great game no one is talking about: South Carolina at Arkansas
Intriguing coaching matchup: Ohio State's Jim Tressel vs. Penn State's Joe Paterno
Why are they playing? Northern Arizona at Ole Miss
Plenty of good seats remaining: Maryland at N.C. State

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




 

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