October 18, 2008

Winners and losers: Saturday had plenty

At least for the early games Saturday, BCS voters could breathe easy before the first release of the standings Sunday.

Two teams in the top three had dominant halves Alabama in the first against Ole Miss and Penn State in the second against Michigan. That was enough for the Tide and Nittany Lions to remain unbeaten.

And one-loss Oklahoma, USC and Georgia stayed within striking distance.

Here are other winners and losers from the day games Saturday:


Oklahoma's offense: It's easy to figure out why Oklahoma's offense is so unstoppable. The Sooners run an absurd amount of plays. Ask Kansas. Oklahoma ran a season-high 97 plays in the 45-31 win over the Jayhawks. Only two teams have held Oklahoma to 70 or fewer plays this season: Oklahoma ran 67 plays in the loss to Texas and 70 in the win over TCU.

Texas: So much for all those worries about a post-Oklahoma letdown. Texas scored touchdowns on each of its five first-half possessions in a 56-31 thrashing of Missouri that should solidify the Longhorns as the No. 1 team in the nation. The rout also should make Colt McCoy the clear Heisman frontrunner. After going 29-of-32 through the air and accounting for four touchdowns against Missouri, McCoy now has won head-to-head battles with fellow candidates Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel the past two weeks.

Penn State's second-half poise: Penn State hadn't beaten Michigan since 1996 and originally seemed ready to continue its history of frustration against the Wolverines. But these Nittany Lions apparently don't believe in hexes. After trailing 17-7 midway through the second quarter, Penn State scored the game's final 39 points to win 46-17 and keep its national championship hopes alive. Penn State scored on each of its last seven possessions to give Michigan a crash course on the proper way to run the spread.

James Rodgers: Freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers isn't the only talented Oregon State player in his family. James Rodgers stole the spotlight from his younger brother Saturday in the Beavers' 34-13 rout of Washington. James, a 5-foot-7 sophomore wide receiver, caught three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown, and he also rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries.

Ohio State: There was considerable doubt about the Buckeyes' offense with games coming up against Michigan State and Penn State. Well, step one accomplished. The Buckeyes were dominant on both sides of the ball in ripping Michigan State 45-7. That sets up next week's showdown with the unbeaten Nittany Lions.

Arizona: A week after losing to Stanford, the Wildcats bounced back with an impressive home victory over California, further muddying the race in the Pac-10. Arizona's defense clamped down in the second half -- so much so that Cal coach Jeff Tedford changed quarterbacks -- and freshman running back Keola Antolin emerged as a playmaker. Arizona plays host to USC next week; it'll be homecoming in Tucson, so give the Wildcats credit for chutzpah if nothing else.

Dabo Swinney: Clemson's interim coach lost his debut, but it was a spirited performance given the tumult of the past week. Without C.J. Spiller and with first-time starting quarterback Willy Korn knocked out of the game, Clemson led 17-14 in the fourth quarter before losing 21-17. Swinney was under considerable scrutiny, including from Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, who was close enough to the coach to signal in plays in the fourth quarter.

Rutgers: Greg Schiano says it every week Rutgers is getting better. Now we see it. The Scarlet Knights beat Connecticut 12-10 with help from a missed field goal in the final two minutes. Maligned quarterback Mike Teel wasn't stellar (17-of-30), but he didn't throw an interception for the third consecutive game and got steady production from running back Kordell Young, who finally is healthy after battling knee trouble.

Brian Brunner: Who is Brian Brunner, you ask. He might have helped set up Central Michigan's third consecutive MAC title. With star quarterback Dan LeFevour out with an ankle injury, Brunner led the Chippewas to a 38-28 win over Western Michigan. Brunner was 20-of-28 for 346 yards with a touchdown and an interception as Central Michigan was 10-of-15 on third down. The win kept the Chippewas undefeated in the MAC.

Randall Cobb: Cobb, a Kentucky freshman who played quarterback and wide receiver Saturday, wore No. 12 against Arkansas in honor of senior wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Cobb then made his teammate proud by catching two touchdown passes in the final 2 1/2 minutes as the Wildcats rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat Arkansas 21-20.

Tulsa's offense: The most potent offense in the nation exceeded its own lofty standards by gaining 806 yards in a 77-35 win over UTEP that kept the Golden Hurricane unbeaten. Tulsa is averaging 56.6 points and hasn't been held below 37 points this season.

Tennessee SS Eric Berry: Although he's only a sophomore, Berry already owns an SEC record with 397 career interception yards. He's only 122 yards behind the NCAA mark owned by Florida State's Terrell Buckley. Berry, who has picked off a pass in three consecutive games, scored on a 72-yard interception return in Tennessee's 31-3 rout of Mississippi State.

Boston College's defense: Virginia Tech scored two touchdowns on interception returns and still couldn't beat Boston College. Why? Because of an underrated BC defense that has helped the Eagles (5-1) continue to thrive in the post-Matt Ryan era. The Eagles were ranked fifth in the nation in total defense even before keeping Virginia Tech's offense out of the end zone in a 28-23 victory.

Dave Wannstedt: One of the most questionable calls of Wannstedt's career came in last season's loss to Navy when he opted to go for a touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal in overtime. Pitt lost 48-45. The Panthers had no problems in this season's matchup, opening a 21-7 lead in the first quarter on the way to a 42-21 win.

Virginia: Guess who's in the hunt in the ACC Coastal? Al Groh is doing it again. Virginia, a team whose only win in September was over Richmond, is suddenly an ACC contender with a 16-13 overtime win over North Carolina.


Alabama: The Crimson Tide withstood a second-half Ole Miss rally and probably will be ranked in the top two of the first BCS standings Sunday. But it was a rough day in Tuscaloosa. Alabama again struggled in the second half, allowing the Rebels to make it close in a 24-20 win. More troubling for Alabama was an apparent knee injury to defensive tackle Terrence Cody, who was carted off the field early in the third quarter.

Michigan: Penn State was favored by 23.5 points Saturday, which marked the first time Michigan ever had been such a heavy underdog. The Wolverines could make the wrong kind of history again this season. With a 2-5 record, Michigan could have a tough time finishing .500 and becoming eligible for its NCAA-leading 34th consecutive bowl bid.

Chase Daniel's Heisman candidacy: The Big 12 still has four legitimate Heisman candidates in McCoy, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and the Texas Tech duo of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, but Daniel's chances of winning the trophy disappeared Saturday. Daniel avoided the mistakes he made last week in a three-interception performance against Oklahoma State, but he also didn't make many big plays until Texas already had put the game out of reach.

Wake Forest's offense: Wake Forest still has as good a chance as anyone in the wide-open ACC with a 2-1 conference record, but it's time to unofficially eliminate the Demon Deacons from contentions. Wake lost 26-0 to Maryland. Wake's misdirection plays aren't fooling anyone the Deacons have one touchdown in three ACC games. As for the Terrapins, there's no team in the nation tougher to figure out. They get shut out by Virginia and lose to Middle Tennessee, but still find ways to beat Cal and Wake Forest.

Bret Bielema: Is there anyone sinking faster than Wisconsin? Benching quarterback Allan Evridge didn't work. Dustin Sherer struggled in his first start, throwing two interceptions and completing just half of his passes in a 38-16 loss. Making matters worse, P.J. Hill left with an injury and the defense was thrashed for the second week in a row. After losing only five games in his first two seasons, Bielema now has lost four in a row.

Connecticut: The Huskies had been a team that found ways to win close games. Against Rutgers, they found a way to lose. Kicker Tony Ciaravino missed three field goals, including two that hit the goalpost. After losing 38-12 at North Carolina two weeks ago and losing quarterback Tyler Lorenzen to a broken foot in September, the season could unravel in a hurry when the Huskies face Cincinnati and West Virginia in the next two weeks.

Michigan State's quarterbacks: The Spartans' weak spot hurt them in a big way against Ohio State. Brian Hoyer regressed from his 14-of-20 performance against Northwestern to go 5-of-13 with an interception. He gave way to Kirk Cousins, who completed 10 of his first 11 passes, but lost a fumble for an Ohio State touchdown. Michigan State never had a chance to put the game in Javon Ringer's hands.

Washington State: The Cougars did nothing to dispel the notion that they might be the worst Pac-10 team ever by losing 69-0 to USC. Mark Sanchez threw five touchdown passes in the first half before giving way to the backups. The shutout ended Wazzu's 280-game scoring streak, the second-longest current streak in the nation and the fourth-longest ever.

North Carolina: How do you lose all the energy generated by a 5-1 start? Lose to Virginia by giving up a touchdown in the final minute in regulation, then another in overtime.

Big 12 North: When the North went 10-8 against the South Division last season, it seemed as though the balance of power in the conference finally had headed north. Not really. Oklahoma's 45-31 victory over Kansas and Texas' rout of Missouri gave the South Division a 7-1 mark against the North this season. Kansas State's 44-30 triumph over lowly Texas A&M last week represents the North's only win.

Arkansas' fourth-quarter execution: All year long, Arkansas running back Michael Smith has made a case on the field that he's one of the SEC's most indispensable players. This week, he proved it in his absence. After running for 192 yards and scoring two touchdowns, Smith got hurt early in the fourth quarter with Arkansas leading Kentucky 20-7. The Wildcats proceeded to turn the ball over twice and give up two touchdowns in the last five minutes to lose 21-20.

San Diego State: His name is Chuck Long, but his tenure as San Diego State's coach may be short. The Aztecs (1-6) gave up the most points in school history Saturday in a 70-7 loss to New Mexico. The Lobos led 49-0 at halftime.

Virginia Tech's passing attack: The Hokies clearly are a better team now that Tyrod Taylor is their quarterback, but he must improve as a passer. Virginia Tech was ranked 113th in the nation in passing even before Taylor went 12-of-27 for 90 yards in the loss to Boston College. Taylor has thrown only one touchdown pass this season.

Stanford's bowl hopes: The Cardinal needed to beat UCLA for a realistic shot at a bowl bid. Stanford let UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft guide an 87-yard scoring drive capped with a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left. After the 23-20 loss, Stanford has to steal at least one against Oregon, USC and Cal for a shot at the postseason. The question isn't if the Pac-10 will secure fill seven of its bowl slots, it's how many the league will fail to fill.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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