September 29, 2008

Monday with Mike: Which losers are still in it?

RELATED: Week 5: What We Learned | Dienhart's Week 5 Awards

Each season has at least one weekend that sees a huge shake-up in the top 25, and we have seen this season's (well, the first one, anyway).

Nine top 25 teams lost last weekend, with six falling to unranked teams: USC to Oregon State, Florida to Ole Miss, Wisconsin to Michigan, Wake Forest to Navy, Clemson to Maryland and East Carolina to Houston. Florida, Wake, Clemson and ECU lost at home. The other top-25 losers were Georgia, which fell at home to Alabama; TCU, which lost at Oklahoma; and Illinois, which lost at Penn State.

Florida, Georgia, USC and Wisconsin can get back into the national-title hunt. The others didn't really have a shot going into the weekend. Here's a closer look at the "still hopeful quartet."

Florida: If the Gators didn't have to play SEC West teams, they'd be happy. The SEC went to two divisions in 1992. Since then, the Gators are 72-9 against SEC East foes but just 37-20 against Western Division schools. After losing to Ole Miss on Saturday, the Gators have lost to an SEC West school at least once in each of the past 10 seasons. Beating a Western Division team is the Gators' only hope to get back into the title picture; they play host to LSU on Oct. 11. Three weeks later, they get Georgia in Jacksonville. If the Gators beat LSU, the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" will indeed be a bacchanal; a loss to the Tigers, though, and it'll be more like a tea party for the Gators.

Georgia: The Bulldogs get a week off to regroup after their thrashing, then face a monster six-week stretch vs. Tennessee (which has won three of the past four against the Bulldogs); vs. Vanderbilt (which won in Athens in 2006 and lost by three to the Bulldogs last season); at LSU; vs. Florida in Jacksonville (the Gators have won 15 of the past 18 in the series); at Kentucky; and at Auburn. If the Bulldogs get through that stretch, they will be squarely in the title mix.

USC: It's hard to imagine a bigger upset than the Trojans losing at Oregon State sort of like last season's inexplicable home loss to a bad Stanford team. Anyway, USC remained in the top 10 in both polls and will be favored in every game the rest of the way; plus, the toughest games against California and Oregon will be at home. But the Trojans' biggest obstacle to get to Miami for the title game will be the perception that the Pac-10 is weak this season. In other words, if USC finishes 11-1 and wins its league, it likely won't be enough unless a lot of other "Big Six" conference teams have at least two losses.

Wisconsin: The Badgers dominated the first half Saturday, then fell apart at "The Big House." They need to right themselves quickly. They can get back in the national-title picture because they play host to Ohio State and Penn State in the next two weeks. They also have games against Illinois and Michigan State in the next five weeks before finishing up with an easy closing stretch. If the Badgers can win their next two games, they become the Big Ten front-runner and will at least be on the periphery of the national picture. Still, they would need some help i.e., losses by some Big 12 and SEC teams to get to Miami.

GETTING ACCLIMATED QUICKLY

Alabama's easy win Saturday at Georgia puts the Tide in the title mix. Nick Saban is trying to become the fourth coach this decade to win a national championship in his second season at a school. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops did it in 2000, Ohio State's Jim Tressel did it in 2002 and Florida's Urban Meyer did it in 2006.

Of the eight coaches who have led their teams to national titles this decade, only one had been at a school longer than four years Texas' Mack Brown in 2005, in his eighth season.

GOOD AND (MOSTLY) BAD

Saturday was a mixed day for the Bowden family. Father Bobby coached in his 500th game, just the third coach to reach that plateau in major-college football, joining Amos Alonzo Stagg and Joe Paterno.

But son Tommy wasn't in a celebratory mood. His Clemson team fell 20-17 at home to Maryland after blowing a 17-6 lead. It was the seventh time this decade a ranked Clemson team lost at home to an unranked opponent.

Clemson used its running game to take the big lead and got great production from tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The duo finished with 224 yards and two touchdowns. But they managed just 31 yards on 10 combined carries in the second half, when the Tigers were held scoreless.

Meanwhile, Maryland rolled up 202 second-half yards and dominated the final two quarters. Terps linebacker Alex Wujciak told reporters that Maryland coaches told their players "if we hit them in the mouth, they're going to fold, so that's what we came out and did."

Clemson's final chance came when Cullen Harper was stopped on a quarterback sneak on fourth and less than a yard at Maryland's 40 with 5:36 left. The Terps then ran out the clock.

Clemson next plays Oct. 9 at Wake Forest in a key ACC Atlantic Division game. Every team in the division except Maryland has at least one loss. While Clemson has as good a shot as anyone at the division title if it beats Wake, this was supposed to be a season that held much more promise than just a division title. But, once again, Clemson has underachieved.

And think about that quote from Wujciak for a second. Maryland coaches essentially told their players that if you show some guts, Clemson will back down. And they were right.

Interestingly, Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson has the Commodores 4-0 and ranked for the first time since 1982. Where did Johnson attend college? Clemson, class of 1973. He was the Tigers' defensive coordinator in 1993, when Clemson finished 9-3.

AN OFFENSIVE DEFENSE

Washington State gave up 60 points for the second time this season, losing to Oregon 63-14. In its two Pac-10 games (the other was against California), the Cougars have been outscored 129-17.

The biggest problem is a rush defense that gives up an astounding 269.0 yards per game after Oregon ran for 346 Saturday. What's even more astounding is that one team New Mexico State (301.3 ypg) is even worse against the run.

"The number one thing going into it was to stop the run, the second thing was to stop the run and the third thing was to stop the run, and we didn't," Cougars defensive coordinator Chris Ball told reporters after Saturday's debacle.

It's the first time since 1976, when Jackie Sherrill was in his only season as the Cougars' coach, that Washington State has given up 60 points in a game. As for the last time the Cougars gave up 60 twice in one season, it was 1970, under Jim Sweeney.

GRID BITS

Lock up the wife/girlfriend/significant other: There is televised college football Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights this week. Who says America isn't great?

Alabama is second in The Associated Press poll but fourth in the coaches' poll. The Tide has 21 first-place votes from the media, two from the coaches.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAMES
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
Oregon State at Utah, 9 p.m. Thursday: The Beavers certainly hurt USC's national-title hopes last Thursday. Can they ruin the Utes' BCS hopes this Thursday?
Connecticut at North Carolina, 7 p.m.: UConn quietly has put together a 5-0 start. Both teams will be using backup quarterbacks. The key is how well the Tar Heels play against Huskies tailback Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher (181.2 ypg, 11 touchdowns).
Rice at Tulsa, 8 p.m.: Oh, my, the offensive numbers this one could produce. The teams combine to average 1,025.4 yards and 106.0 points per game; they've also combined to throw 34 TD passes. Their defenses combine to allow 847.0 yards and 58.4 points per game. The over/under on the time it will take to play this? We say 3 hours, 40 minutes.
Just call Nashville the center of the universe. First, the ESPN GameDay crew will be in town for Saturday's Auburn-Vanderbilt game. Then, on Oct. 7, Belmont University which is right down the street from Vandy will host a John McCain-Barack Obama debate.

Tennessee had seven three-and-outs in falling 14-12 at Auburn. The Vols managed just 191 yards of offense against the Tigers, and have scored just two TDs and committed four turnovers in their two SEC games.

Duke snapped a 25-game ACC losing streak with its rout of Virginia. It was just the fourth time this decade the Blue Devils had been favored and only the second time they won as the favorite.

There was nothing mysterious about Navy's game plan Saturday, which makes it all the more surprising the Midshipmen won 24-17 at Wake Forest. Navy had 63 plays from scrimmage and ran on 59 of them. Still, Wake's veteran defense couldn't handle it. The Midshipmen ran for 292 yards and three TDs; they also completed three of their four passes. Of course, it helped Navy that normally competent Wake quarterback Riley Skinner threw four picks his first four of the season. Wake, by the way, was trying for its seventh consecutive win, which would've tied a school record.

The official listed attendance for the Miami-North Carolina game was 35,830. Hmmm guess all those folks in south Florida aren't buying the "Hurricanes are back" talk.

The Mountain West celebrated two weeks ago when its teams went 4-0 against Pac-10 schools. It probably is a little more subdued around Mountain West campuses this week after the league went 3-4 in non-conference games Saturday losing to teams from the Mid-American, Pac-10, Big 12 and Western Athletic conferences. The losses to the Pac-10 and Big 12 schools were by a combined 77-17. The non-conference wins, by the way, came against two WAC schools and a FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, (formerly known as Division I-AA) program.

If games at some Pac-10 venues sounded a little more raucous over the weekend, it probably was because three more league schools Stanford, UCLA and Washington started classes last week. Oregon and Oregon State begin classes today.

Boston College pounded Rhode Island 42-0. It was the Eagles' 20th consecutive non-conference victory, the longest such streak in the nation.

Toledo's Alex Steigerwald kicked three field goals in the Rockets' loss to Florida International. He has made 23 consecutive attempts. The record is 30, by Washington's Chuck Nelson in 1981 and '82.

Cincinnati has lost another quarterback. First, Ben Mauk was denied by the NCAA in his quest for a sixth season of eligibility. Then, Dustin Grutza broke his leg in Game 2 in a loss at Oklahoma. Saturday, Tony Pike broke his arm in a victory over Akron. He's expected to miss at least three weeks. The new starter is expected to be redshirt freshman Zach Collaros, who played some in the fourth quarter Saturday after Pike's injury. Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones also is on the roster, but doesn't appear to be in the quarterback plans.

Two weeks ago, the SEC had five teams ranked in the top 10. This week, the Big 12 has four in the top eight.

The first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 19. Rivals.com's first 1-120 rankings come out Oct. 6.

RELATED: Week 5: What We Learned | Dienhart's Week 5 Awards

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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