November 7, 2009

Winners and losers: TCU's perfect quest

For TCU, it's all about finishing unbeaten. Whatever happens after that is a bonus.

"That's the big thing," Horned Frogs quarterback Andy Dalton told reporters Saturday after leading TCU to a 55-12 rout at San Diego State. "Our ultimate goal is to end the season undefeated. We have a lot of potential, but we have to keep going out and playing like this."

If it does, could TCU play for the BCS title? It could happen.

The Horned Frogs improved to 9-0 with the victory over the Aztecs. Expect TCU to move up to No. 5 in the BCS standings when they are released Sunday, putting it behind Florida, Alabama, Texas and Cincinnati.

TCU's best hope to get to the BCS title game is that Texas and Cincinnati lose down the stretch. Of course, the Horned Frogs also need to win out.

TCU will play one of the biggest games in school history next Saturday at home against Utah (8-1). Beat the Utes, and TCU should cruise to a 12-0 finish because there are two easy games left after the contest with Utah: at Wyoming and against New Mexico.

The SEC champ and Texas look primed for the BCS title spot. Texas still must play Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M. But none of those truly are daunting, and neither would be the Big 12 championship game, where the likely opponent would be Nebraska or Kansas State.

Cincinnati has the most difficult remaining regular-season schedule among the contenders, with home games against West Virginia and Illinois and a road contest against Pittsburgh.

Should TCU win out and get the help it needs, it would deserve a shot in the title game over a one-loss team from another conference. Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs might be the best non-Big Six team of the BCS era.

TCU, which has won 11 in a row, has a rugged, physical defense that's as fast as most units in Big Six leagues. The Horned Frogs entered the weekend leading the nation in total defense. Couple that with a balanced offense led by Dalton and you have the makings of a non-Big Six team that could do the impossible: play for the national championship.

"Right now, we are a confident team," said TCU tailback Joseph Turner, whose team has outscored its past four opponents 178-25. "We feel that no matter what play the coaches call, we are going to be successful."

QB bug bites Iowa

Lack of depth at quarterback deep-sixed Iowa's BCS championship dreams.

The Hawkeyes (9-1) raced to a 10-0 lead over Northwestern on Saturday. Then, after quarterback Ricky Stanzi suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter, Iowa fell apart behind backup James Vandenberg and failed to score the rest of the game in a 17-10 loss.

Vandenberg, a redshirt freshman, completed just 9 of 27 passes for 82 yards as the Hawkeyes' unbeaten season, 13-game winning streak and national title aspirations came crashing down.

Meanwhile, Northwestern's backup QB, Dan Persa, was effective in relief of starter Mike Kafka, who left the game with a hamstring injury.

Before leaving in the third quarter with an apparent hand injury, Persa connected on 4 of 8 attempts for 35 yards and a touchdown. He ran 17 times for a team-high 67 yards in leading the Wildcats to their first win over a top-10 team since beating No. 6 Ohio State in 2004.

The Hawkeyes still can win a share of the Big Ten title and make their first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 1990 season if they win next week at Ohio State.

A pair of interceptions, one each from Stanzi and Vandenberg, and a lost fumble sealed Iowa's fate against Northwestern.

"It's hard to win football games against good, competitive teams ... if you're going to turn the ball over," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters. "If you do that week in, week out, you're not going to win many football games."

Early X-rays on Stanzi's ankle were negative, but he'll likely be out for a few weeks.

Here's how some other top teams have fared with their backup quarterback:

Cincinnati: Tony Pike went out with an arm injury against USF on Oct. 15. The Bearcats inserted Zach Collaros, who led wins over Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut.

LSU: Jarrett Lee came off the bench after Jordan Jefferson got hurt Saturday at Alabama, but Lee was unable to lead the Tigers to a win, completing just 4 of 10 passes for 43 yards with an interception and two sacks.

Oregon: Earlier this season, the Ducks turned to Nate Costa to lead a 24-10 win at UCLA. Costa completed 9 of 17 passes for 82 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Arizona: Matt Scott gave way to Nick Foles in a loss at Iowa in September. Since then, the Arizona offense has soared behind Foles and the Wildcats are tied for first place in the Pac-10.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini kept their slim bowl hopes alive Saturday with a 35-32 upset of Minnesota. Jacob Charest threw for 185 yards and a touchdown after Juice Williams left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

WINNERS

Alabama: The Crimson Tide's workmanlike 24-15 victory over LSU clinched the SEC West crown. It also guarantees an Alabama-Florida SEC title game matchup.

Arizona: A 48-7 domination of Washington State coupled with Oregon's loss at Stanford puts the Wildcats into a tie at the top of the Pac-10.

Baylor: The Bears ended a 13-game Big 12 road losing streak with a 40-32 upset of Missouri. Freshman quarterback Nick Florence threw for a school-record 427 yards and three touchdowns.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats' 47-45 victory over UConn, set up a Friday night Big East showdown against West Virginia.

Clemson: A 40-24 victory over Florida State cements the Tigers as the top team in the ACC Atlantic Division. Clemson has won four in a row after a 2-3 start. C.J. Spiller continues to make a late push in the Heisman race, rushing 22 times for 165 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 67 yards and another score.

Colorado: A thrilling 35-34 win over Texas A&M is proof that the Buffaloes are playing hard for embattled Dan Hawkins.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini have won two in a row, with the win at Minnesota coming on the heels of last week's victory over Michigan. The 3-6 Fighting Illini's have games left against Northwestern, Cincinnati and Fresno State.

Georgia Tech: A 30-27 overtime win against Wake Forest reaffirmed the notion that the Yellow Jackets are the ACC's best team. Should we start considering Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt as a Heisman contender?

Houston: The Cougars came back from eight points down late in the fourth quarter for 46-45 victory at Tulsa. The rally culminated on a last-second, 51-yard field goal after they recovered an onside kick. Houston's Case Keenum remains in the Heisman hunt after going 40-of-60 for 521 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas State: The return of Bill Snyder has been a smashing success. The Wildcats' 17-10 win over Kansas keeps K-State in control of the Big 12 North with games remaining against Missouri and Nebraska.

Miami: The Hurricanes are one game behind of Georgia Tech in the ACC Coastal after outgaining Virginia 515-149 in a 52-17 rout.

Navy: The Middies went 43 years between wins over Notre Dame. Now, Navy has topped the Fighting Irish twice in the past three seasons after Saturday's 23-21 upset. The Midshipmen hadn't won two in a row in South Bend since 1961 and '63.

The Heisman 5
Nebraska: The offense continues to battle inconsistency, but the defense is outstanding. The 10-3 victory over Oklahoma was perhaps the best of the Bo Pelini era. Even better: The Huskers control their own destiny in the Big 12 North.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes' victory at Penn State means they still can win the Big Ten if they prevail next week at home against Iowa. Think Terrelle Pryor (8 of 17 passing, 125 yards, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD), enjoyed this victory over the home state school he spurned?

Oregon State: The Beavers are on yet another second-half surge. Their latest conquest: a 31-14 victory at Cal.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers moved to 8-1 -- their best start since 1982 -- with a 37-10 romp past Syracuse. A visit from Notre Dame is next.

Purdue: A 38-36 win was the Boilermakers' first at Michigan since 1966. If Purdue finishes the season with a home win over Michigan State and a triumph at Indiana, the Boilermakers will be bowl eligible after a 1-5 start.

Stanford: Yes, the defense stinks, but the Cardinal became bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 with a 51-42 shocker over Oregon.

TCU: The latest gem was a 55-12 drubbing of San Diego State. This team is the top non-Big Six squad in the nation.

Temple: The Owls' 34-32 win vs. Miami (Ohio) on Thursday was their seventh in a row, the school's longest winning streak since an eight-game march in 1973. Temple, which won seven games total from 2002-05, is on track for its first bowl since 1979.

UCLA: Finally, that five-game losing streak is over with a 24-23 win over Washington. The Bruins need to win two of their last three to get bowl eligible.

LOSERS

Boise State: Do elite teams worthy of BCS bowls struggle to win at Louisiana Tech? The Broncos did in securing an unimpressive 45-35 victory on Friday.

California: The Golden Bears had won three in a row to get back into the top 25. They won't stay long after a 17-point loss to Oregon State. Even worse, the Bears lost star running back Jahvid Best to a scary concussion.

Iowa: Unbeaten season? Gone. Big Ten title hopes? Hanging in the balance after a 17-10 home loss to Northwestern.

Kansas: QB Todd Reesing continued to struggle in a 17-10 loss at Kansas State, committing three turnovers. The Jayhawks have lost four in a row for the first time since 2006.

New Mexico: The Lobos fell to 0-9 with a 45-14 loss at Utah. The defeat also was the 13th in a row for New Mexico, which is in jeopardy of its first winless season since 1987.

Maryland: The beatings just keep coming, with a 38-31 loss at North Carolina State being the latest. That's four defeats in a row and six in seven games for the Terps (2-7).

Michigan: Losing at home to Purdue makes it official -- the Wolverines stink. That's five losses over the past six games for a team that has been outscored 75-12 in the second half of its past three games.

Missouri: A 40-32 home loss to Baylor might be the most embarrassing of the Gary Pinkel era. Mizzou has lost three in a row at home for the first time since 2004.

Notre Dame: Those BCS bowl hopes are history after a 23-21 home loss to Navy. That's also the second loss in a row at home to Navy for the Fighting Irish.

Oklahoma: A season that got off to a horrible start in a 14-13 loss to BYU continues to sink after a 10-3 loss at Nebraska. But the losing may not be over for the Sooners (5-4), who still have to play Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

Oregon: A seven-game winning streak is over after a 51-42 loss at Stanford. Remember how many people felt the Ducks were perhaps the top team in the nation after last week's 47-20 romp past USC?

Penn State: Penn State has played two quality teams -- both at home -- and lost both. Ohio State won in State College 24-7 Saturday after Iowa prevailed there earlier this season. Daryll Clark was awful, completing 12 of 28 passes for 125 yards with an interception.

South Carolina: The late-season swoon continued with a 33-16 loss at Arkansas, South Carolina's third in four games. The Gamecocks are 6-4 after a 5-1 start, with Florida and Clemson left. South Carolina was 7-3 before dropping its last three in 2008, and the Gamecocks lost their last five games in 2007 to finish 6-6.

SEC: Yes, Alabama-LSU was a prime game, but it was "Cupcake Saturday" in the SEC, with four schools playing FCS opponents. Kentucky whipped Eastern Kentucky 37-12, Auburn blasted Furman 63-31, Georgia crushed Tennessee Tech 38-0 and Ole Miss downed Northern Arizona 38-14. Come on, play someone.

Wake Forest: Meet this season's hard-luck team -- five of the Deacons' six losses have been by three or fewer points. The latest heartbreak was a 30-27 overtime loss at Georgia Tech.

Washington: The Huskies have gone from a feel-good story to a Pac-10 bottom-feeder. A 24-23 loss at UCLA was Washington's fourth in five games, and those bowl hopes are all but gone.

HOT SEAT

Rich Rodriguez, Michigan: A 4-0 start has devolved into a 5-5 record, and the Wolverines are in peril of missing a bowl for the second year in a row. This on the heels of a school-record nine-loss season. In addition, Michigan -- whose only Big Ten win was by three over Indiana -- is being investigated by the NCAA regarding its offseason workouts.

TOP STORYLINES FOR NEXT WEEK

Buckeye-Hawkeye showdown: It's all right there for Iowa or Ohio State -- win out and claim the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth. It starts next Saturday in Columbus. Iowa comes in off its first loss and likely without QB Ricky Stanzi, while Ohio State comes in off its biggest win of the season, over Penn State.

Gators, beware: Florida travels to South Carolina to play what could be its last scary game of the regular season. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier would love nothing more than to ruin the Gators' unbeaten season.

TCU's time: Utah visits TCU in what will be the biggest non-Big Six game of the season. If the Horned Frogs win, they're basically a lock to finish unbeaten and earn their first BCS bid. But beating the Utes won't be easy.

What's next for Notre Dame? Coming off a humiliating home loss to Navy, the Irish's misery could continue in a game at Pitt, which is one of the hottest teams in the nation. A loss here turns up the heat even higher on Charlie Weis.

Return of Orgeron: Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron returns to Oxford as a Tennessee assistant. The Vols will play an Ole Miss team that still is full of players he recruited.

Dienhart's weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama
Glad I'm not him: Al Groh, Virginia
Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Houston
Poor guy: Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Desperately seeking a clue: Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Florida
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: California
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Virginia
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Purdue
They're good: Arizona
They're bad: Maryland
Did the season start? Syracuse
Can the season end? Missouri
Can the season never end? Kansas State
GAMES
Play this again: Cincinnati 47, Connecticut 45
Never play this again: Oklahoma State 34, Iowa State 8
Told you so: Stanford 51, Oregon 42
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: Iowa at Ohio State
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Troy at Arkansas
Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah at TCU
Upset alert: West Virginia over Cincinnati in Cincinnati (Friday)
Must win: TCU over Utah in Fort Worth
Offensive explosion: Texas Tech at Oklahoma State
Defensive struggle: Alabama at Mississippi State
Great game no one is talking about: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
Intriguing coaching matchup: Florida's Urban Meyer vs. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier
Why are they playing? Louisiana Tech at LSU
Plenty of good seats remaining: Northwestern at Illinois

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



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