November 8, 2008

Winners and losers: Some pass tests, others don't

One team was literally kicked out of national title contention.

Another refused to let a blocked kick end its national championship dreams.

Top-ranked Alabama gave former LSU coach Nick Saban a happy homecoming Saturday by beating the Tigers 27-21 in overtime.

John Parker Wilson's 1-yard sneak in overtime gave Alabama the victory after Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's potential game-winning field goal with one second left in regulation.

Penn State wasn't nearly as fortunate.

Daniel Murray's 31-yard field goal with one second remaining gave Iowa a 24-23 victory over Penn State that likely knocked the Nittany Lions out of national title contention.

Alabama was the biggest winner and Penn State was the biggest loser in a Saturday full of national championship implications.

Here's a rundown of the week's other biggest winners and losers.

Winners

Iowa RB Shonn Greene: Iowa students dressed in green Saturday to honor their star running back. Greene rewarded their faith in him by giving his Heisman Trophy candidacy a major boost. Greene rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns against a tough Penn State defense to continue his streak of breaking the 100-yard mark in every game this season.

Alabama FS Rashad Johnson: After scoring a game-tying touchdown on a 54-yard interception return in the second quarter, Johnson also picked off a pass in the end zone in overtime to help give Alabama a 27-21 victory over LSU. The win over the defending national champions clinched the SEC Western Division crown and helped the top-ranked Tide remain in the thick of national title contention.

The Big 12 and SEC. Want a college football playoff? You will get it this season in the Big 12 South and SEC. Alabama and Texas Tech will remain in the top two in the BCS this week, but one-loss Florida and Oklahoma could damage their championship hopes. The Gators and Crimson Tide clinched their spots in the SEC title game, and the Sooners get Texas Tech in two weeks.

Ruffin McNeill. Any doubts about Texas Tech's legitimacy were erased Saturday in a rout of Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders' defense is the "x"-factor in the Big 12 South. McNeill's defense held the Cowboys to a season-low 20 points, 186 rushing yards (87 fewer than their season average) and wide receiver Dez Bryant to one catch in the first half.

Mid-American Conference: Western Michigan's 23-17 triumph over Illinois marked the third time in the last five weeks a MAC team has beaten a Big Ten program. Central Michigan edged Indiana last week, while Toledo knocked off Michigan 13-10. Three days earlier, MAC West leader Ball State remained undefeated and kept its faint hopes for a BCS bid alive with a 45-14 victory over Northern Illinois.

Georgia QB Matthew Stafford: One week after throwing three interceptions in a 49-10 loss to Florida that knocked Georgia out of national title contention, Stafford made sure the Bulldogs avoided a second consecutive defeat. Stafford threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-winning 11-yard pass to A.J. Green with 1:54 remaining in a 42-38 victory over Kentucky. Stafford also deserves credit for keeping his faith in Mohamed Massaquoi. After fumbling the ball away on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, Massaquoi delivered a 77-yard reception that set up the Bulldogs' winning touchdown.

Wisconsin rushing attack: P.J. Hill, David Gilreath and John Clay each ran for more than 100 yards to lead a 441-yard rushing attack in Wisconsin's 55-20 victory over Indiana. Wisconsin's rushing total was the highest by any team in the history of Memorial Stadium, the Hoosiers' home since 1960. The afternoon must have been particularly sweet for Hill, who had rushed for a total of two touchdowns in his last seven games. Hill ran for 126 yards and reached the end zone three times against Indiana.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: Nebraska's 45-35 victory over Kansas gave the Cornhuskers their first signature win of the Pelini era and helped them avenge last season's humiliating 76-39 loss to the Jayhawks. With Kansas State and Colorado remaining on the schedule, Nebraska (6-4) has an excellent chance to go 8-4.

Pittsburgh defense: LeSean McCoy is the engine that has Pittsburgh running toward a bowl bid, but the Panthers proved Saturday they're not a one-man team. McCoy ran for just 39 yards on 17 carries, but Pittsburgh still breezed to a 41-7 victory over Louisville. Pittsburgh's final two touchdowns came on a Ricky Gary fumble return and a Scott McKillop interception return. Pittsburgh's defense was so effective that the Panthers led 17-0 at halftime, even though McCoy ran eight times for only 7 yards in the first two periods.

Michigan defense: It happened too late in the season to matter, but Michigan's defense finally lived up to expectations Saturday. While the Michigan offense was supposed to struggle this year while adjusting to the spread attack favored by new coach Rich Rodriguez, the defense was supposed to pick up the slack. The Wolverines instead entered the weekend ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Michigan's defense finally came through Saturday by sacking Adam Weber four times and intercepting him once in the Wolverines' 29-6 upset of Minnesota.

Texas WR Quan Cosby: If he hadn't injured his back in the opening series of a 39-33 loss to Texas Tech, the Longhorns might still be undefeated. Cosby returned to action this week and proved his worth by catching eight passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-21 victory over Baylor that kept Texas' national championship hopes alive.

USC's defense. How the Trojans allowed Oregon State to run all over them will be one of the great mysteries of the season, along with Florida's home loss to Ole Miss. USC's defense has been dominant since that game. The Trojans led the nation in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and pass efficiency defense going into the game. That won't change this week as Cal managed only 165 total yards, including just 27 on the ground, in a 17-3 loss. Cal trailed only 10-3 for most of the second half, but the Bears were so overmatched, there was little hope to overcome that deficit.

Brian Kelly. Cincinnati just won't go away in the Big East race. Just when it looked as if West Virginia would run away with the Big East, Cincinnati is in a three-way tie for first place in the conference after beating the Mountaineers 26-23 in overtime. Tony Pike, one of three starting quarterbacks for injury-plagued Cincinnati this season, looks as if he's here to stay after passing for 178 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers, a freshman running back at Oregon State, set the Pac-10 rushing record for freshmen and is on his way to being the first freshman to lead the conference in rushing. Rodgers rushed for 144 yards in a rout of UCLA to increase his season total to 1,089 yards.

Mike Stoops. Arizona's coach entered the season with questions about his job security, but those should end if the Wildcats make their first bowl since 1998. Arizona is bowl eligible with 59-28 win over Washington State, but Stoops might not clear his December schedule until win No. 7. Arizona was 6-6 in 2006 but was not picked up for a bowl even though the Wildcats beat a ranked Washington State team and a top-10 Cal team in November that season.

T.Y. Hilton. The past two seasons have been embarrassing as any for Florida International, between its 23 losses and the on-field fight with Miami. Things are changing, though, thanks to Hilton, a freshman receiver. He had 199 receiving yards, then threw the 38-yard game-winning touchdown pass against Arkansas State. FIU won one total game in the past two seasons but has won four this season.

Rice QB Chase Clement: Clement threw three touchdown passes in a 38-31 victory over Army to give him 87 for his career, breaking former Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb's Conference USA record.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden: He celebrated his 79th birthday by beating Clemson 41-27 to remain tied atop the ACC Atlantic Division. Bowden's 380th career victory also moved him within one win of all-time leader Joe Paterno of Penn State.

Losers

Tennessee: Several of Tennessee's players spent the week griping about the Tennessee administration's decision to force out Phillip Fulmer at the end of the season. Perhaps they should have been pointing the finger at themselves. Instead of honoring their coach Saturday, the Volunteers delivered their worst performance in a season full of stinkers. Wyoming ranks last in the nation in scoring, but the Cowboys pulled off a 13-7 upset of Tennessee, which was held to single digits for the third straight week. The embarrassing performance guaranteed that Tennessee (3-7) would have its second losing season in the last four years.

LSU QB Jarrett Lee: The redshirt freshman threw four interceptions against Alabama to continue his season-long struggle with turnovers. Rashad Johnson's 54-yard return in the second quarter marked the sixth time this season that Lee has thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Johnson recorded a second interception in overtime when Lee threw into double coverage.

Penn State QB Daryll Clark: The maestro of Penn State's Spread HD offense has performed admirably all season, but he picked a bad time to have a rare off day. Clark went 9-of-23 for 86 yards and ran for only 6 yards on five carries. Tyler Sash's interception of a Clark pass late in the fourth quarter gave Iowa the ball and led to the Hawkeyes' winning field-goal drive. The entire Spread HD struggled Saturday. Three times the Nittany Lions had to settle for field goals after driving into the red zone.

Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Weis. The stock of the Notre Dame duo continues to tumble. Clausen was awful against Boston College, throwing four interceptions. In the 17-0 loss to the Eagles, Clausen accounted for more touchdowns for his opponent (one) than he did for his own team. Notre Dame is much improved from last season, but that's more a reflection of the miserable 2007 team than this season. Notre Dame hasn't beaten a team with a winning record and four of its five wins are over teams already eliminated from bowl contention.

Cal's quarterbacks. Jeff Tedford can't make up his mind on quarterbacks Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley. Longshore started but was pulled at halftime after passing for 79 yards and two interceptions that were called back on penalties. Riley, coming back from a concussion against Oregon, wasn't much better, going 4-of-16 with an interception and three sacks.

Louisville: You'd think a team that was left out of the postseason after going 6-6 last year would show a sense of urgency to get to the seven-win mark. Louisville (5-4) instead seems to want to stay home for the holidays. The Cardinals followed up a loss to lowly Syracuse by suffering a blowout loss to Pittsburgh, ending their seven-game winning streak in this particular rivalry.

Purdue coach Joe Tiller: The veteran coach's impressive career won't end with a postseason appearance. Purdue's 21-7 loss to Michigan State knocked the Boilermakers (3-7) out of bowl contention.

Iowa State's goal-line offense: Iowa State drove to Colorado's 1-yard line in the final seconds at Colorado, but the Cyclones' chances of earning their first Big 12 win of the season disappeared when Colorado's Daniel Dykes and Jimmy Smith stopped Alexander Robinson behind the line of scrimmage as time expired.

Virginia: We gave Virginia plenty of credit for winning four games in a row after a dreadful start, so it's only fair that we also point out that the Cavaliers (5-5) have followed that surge by losing back-to-back games to Miami and Wake Forest. Virginia trailed Wake Forest 28-3 at halftime on its way to a 28-17 setback.

Texas A&M: The good news: Oklahoma's 66-28 rout of Texas A&M wasn't nearly as bad as the 77-0 shellacking the Sooners handed the Aggies five years ago. The bad news: 66-28 is still pretty bad, particularly when you consider Oklahoma did all its scoring in the first three quarters.

Kansas (whenever it plays at Nebraska): Kansas' 45-35 loss to Nebraska continued the Jayhawks' tradition of frustration in Lincoln. Kansas hasn't beaten Nebraska on the road since 1968.

Vanderbilt. The Commodores were the feel-good story of the first half of the season with a 5-0 start. But they look like the same old Vanderbilt now, losing 42-14 to Florida to fall to 5-4. In a wild turn of events, Vandy's best bet for bowl eligibility is a Nov. 22 home game against Tennessee.

Stanford's bowl hopes. The Cardinal needed this one to reach its first bowl since 2001. Stanford led 28-27 with 2:28 remaining but allowed Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to lead an 88-yard scoring drive for the 35-28 win. Stanford has two games left against teams it beat last season but those teams are USC and Cal.

The Rose Bowl. It looks less likely the Rose Bowl will be pressured to stage a USC-Ohio State rematch with Penn State losing its stake in the national title game for now. But the Nittany Lions' loss and Oregon State's win brings the Rose Bowl a little closer to an even less appealing rematch. If both teams win out, they will replay Penn State's 45-14 win.

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



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