September 19, 2009

Winners and losers: Washington comes alive

One week, Washington ends the nation's longest losing streak. The next week, the Huskies shock the world by knocking off No. 3 USC, 16-13.

It's the kind of win on which Washington coach Steve Sarkisian can build a program. And there is a lot of construction to do at a school that hasn't been to the postseason since a trip to the 2002 Sun Bowl.

The win is even sweeter for Sarkisian, who took the Washington job after serving on the USC staff from 2005-08, with the last two as offensive coordinator.

The Huskies' Erik Folk booted a 22-yard field goal with three seconds left to help UW secure the improbable triumph. It is the second year in a row USC has lost its Pac-10 opener a week after beating Ohio State.

Now, the question can be asked without fear: Has USC underachieved under Pete Carroll ?

Think about it. Since the Trojans lost the BCS title game to Texas after the 2005 season, USC has failed to get back to the championship game despite arguably having the most talent of any school in the nation.

In 2006, USC lost at Oregon State (33-31) and at UCLA (13-9).

In 2007, USC got dumped at home by 41-point underdog Stanford (24-23) in arguably the biggest upset in college football history.

In 2008, USC was clipped at Oregon State (27-21).

Now, this: a humiliating loss to a Washington team that entered the season with a 14-game losing streak that was the longest in the nation.

Credit Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who was the defensive coordinator at USC before joining Sarkisian at Washington. The Huskies held the Trojans to 360 yards, but only 110 of those came in the air. It was the worst passing game in the Carroll era.

Make no mistake about it: This is a one-dimensional USC offense that is all-run and no pass. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Corp started for an injured Matt Barkley, who missed the game with a bruised shoulder.

Corp completed just 13 of 22 passes for 110 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. USC also lost two fumbles and was 0-for-10 on third-down conversions. Unless USC's passers improve, the Trojans might be in peril of not winning at least a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time since 2001, Carroll's first season. USC still has games at Cal, at Notre Dame and at Oregon.

Conversely, Washington is rolling behind quarterback Jake Locker, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 237 yards. The victory over the Trojans is Washington's second in a row (it opened with a 31-23 home loss to LSU but rebounded to beat Idaho, 42-23, last Saturday) and has the Huskies thinking about being a Pac-10 contender. Washington plays at Stanford next Saturday before traveling to Notre Dame.

Winners

Oregon: Credit Chip Kelly for keeping his team together after the Ducks debuted with a thud in a 19-8 loss at Boise State. Oregon rebounded to squeak out a 38-36 win over Purdue last week and dumped Utah today, ending the Utes' national-best 16-game winning streak. Now, Oregon has a big showdown vs. Cal next Saturday.

Virginia Tech: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor looked awful all day vs. Nebraska. He had minus 14 yards rushing and completed just 12 of 27 passes for 193 yards with one touchdown. But he hit Danny Coale for an 80-yard gain to the Nebraska 3-yard line with less than two minutes to go and followed with a touchdown strike to Dyrell Roberts with less than 30 seconds remaining to lead Tech to a 16-15 win over Nebraska and keep the Hokies' faint national title hopes alive.

The Mighty MAC: First, Toledo whips Colorado. Then, Central Michigan dumps Michigan State. This week, Northern Illinois tops Purdue. This is further proof of what we always knew: The top-tier MAC teams are as good - or better - than the middle of the pack and lower-level Big Ten teams.

Colorado: Much-maligned Dan Hawkins earned a reprieve for at least one week by posting a win over Wyoming. Trips to West Virginia and Texas are next, followed by a visit from Kansas.

Landry Jones: The Oklahoma quarterback is doing his best impression of injured Sam Bradford. Jones completed 25 of 37 passes for 336 yards with six touchdown passes (an FBS freshman record) in a 45-0 win over Tulsa. OU is off next week before going to Miami. The Sooners are still in the national title hunt.

Charlie Weis: Some feel this 33-30 win over Michigan State was the biggest of his tenure. No doubt, it quells some of the pain of last week's defeat at Michigan. But the temperature of Weis' fanny only has gone from "inferno" to "blazing hot."

Jahvid Best: The Cal star is the nation's top running back. Best may be the top player in America. His latest gem: 132 yards and five TDs in a 35-21 win at Minnesota.

Georgia QB Joe Cox. He tied a school record with five touchdown passes in a 52-41 win at Arkansas, leading the Bulldogs to a second shootout win in two weeks following a wild, 41-37 victory over South Carolina. How did Georgia lose to Oklahoma State ?

TCU/Boise State/Houston: BYU's loss to Florida State and Utah's defeat at Oregon means these are the three non-Big Six schools with the best shot of being a BCS buster.

Florida State. Did the Seminoles really just edge past Jacksonville State last week, 19-9? The Seminoles looked like a national title contender in dismantling BYU, 54-28.

Washington State. You can call the Cougars a lot of things, but you can't call them "losers." At least not on this day, as Wazzu toppled SMU, 30-27, in overtime in what likely will be Washington State's lone win of the season.

Gene Chizik. Yes, he was 5-19 in two years at Iowa State. He is now 3-0 at Auburn.

Big East: Led by Cincinnati's 28-18 win at Oregon State, the Big East posted a 6-2 mark. The losses were tough as Louisville (at Kentucky) and West Virginia (at Auburn) fell. The impressive wins: Pitt 27, Navy 14; UConn 30, Baylor 22; Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34.

LOSERS

Florida: Yes, the Gators beat Tennessee, 23-13, but Florida was supposed to stuff it down Lane Kiffin's mouth and make a massive statement as the nation's best team. It didn't happen. Credit Kiffin's smart play-calling and a strong effort by the Vols defense.

BYU: National title aspirations disappeared. And any BCS bowl hopes ended. The Cougars' ugly 54-28 home loss to Florida State means it's time to start dreaming about the ... Las Vegas Bowl?

Utah: Just like that, the Utes' national-best 16-game winning streak ended in a 31-24 loss at Oregon. Oh, and any dreams Utah had of playing in a BCS bowl also are finished.

Nebraska: It was right there for Bo Pelini, his first signature win as Cornhuskers coach. But the Big Red defense broke down late to allow Virginia Tech to score the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes to go to escape with a 16-15 home win. It was Nebraska's 21st loss in its last 22 games to top 20 teams.

Purdue: The Boilermakers' rebuilding job under rookie coach Danny Hope took a big step back with a humiliating home loss to Northern Illinois. Will 1-1 Purdue win another game? Maybe not.

Louisville: This 31-27 loss at Kentucky hurts Cardinals coach Steve Kragthorpe, whose team was driving for the winning score in the waning minutes when Louisville quarterback Justin Burke was intercepted. UK has now won three in a row over U of L. Up next is a trip to Utah followed by a visit from Pitt.

Baylor: The Bears got dumped at home by Connecticut, 30-22. That Baylor win at Wake Forest seems like it happened 100 years ago. The Bears are trying to end a bowl-less skein that stretches to 1994.

Big Ten: Purdue got beat by Northern Illinois; Northwestern became Syracuse's first victim; Minnesota got whipped by Cal and Michigan State was tripped up by Notre Dame. The most impressive Big Ten win? Iowa's 27-17 triumph over Arizona.

The ACC: This week's pratfalls: Middle Tennessee 32, Maryland 31, and Southern Miss 37, Virginia 34. Ten of the ACC's 12 schools already have losses, as Miami and North Carolina are the league's lone unbeaten teams. Good thing Virginia Tech survived at home against Nebraska.

HOT SEAT

Al Groh, Virginia. The Cavaliers blew a 27-10 halftime lead and lost 37-34 at Southern Miss. Virginia is now 0-3. There will be a coaching change in Charlottesville.

TOP 5 STORY LINES FOR NEXT WEEK

1. Miami's March: So far, so good. The Hurricanes are successfully navigating a fearsome foursome of season-opening opponents. Florida State and Georgia Tech have been handled. Next up: a trip to Virginia Tech. There is no time to exhale after that with Oklahoma coming to Miami.

2. Is Penn State Legit? After opening vs. three walkovers (Akron, Syracuse, Temple), the Nittany Lions will unofficially open the season when Iowa comes to State College, Pa.

3. Bear Down, Cal: The Golden Bears roll into Oregon as one of the nation's hottest teams. Win here, and Cal will be sky high with USC coming to Berkeley on Oct. 3. But the Ducks are rolling, too, with dreams of a Pac-10 crown.

4. TCU's Time to Shine: Some feel the Horned Frogs are the most talented non-Big Six team in the nation. Alas, the Horned Frogs' trip to Clemson is their last chance to score an impressive (well, at least a semi-impressive) non-conference victory.

5. Can Ole Miss survive South Carolina? The Rebels' Thursday night trip to Columbia will be a stern test for a program that has dreams of winning the SEC West. Can Ole Miss handle the Gamecocks' suddenly deadly offense? Will Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead navigate a rugged South Carolina defense?

Dienhart's weekly awards
AWARDS
Wish I were him: Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Glad I'm not him: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Lucky guy: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Poor guy: Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville
Desperately seeking a clue: Al Groh, Virginia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Brian Kelly, Cincinnati
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Pete Carroll, USC
Desperately seeking ... anything: Danny Hope, Purdue
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Alabama
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: USC
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Boston College
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Florida State
Dang, they're good: Penn State
Dang, they're bad: Vanderbilt
GAMES
Play this again: Georgia 52, Arkansas 41
Never play this again: Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 0
Are you kidding me? Florida State 54, BYU 28
Oh ... my ... God: Washington 16, USC 13
Told you so: Connecticut 30, Baylor 22
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: Miami at Virginia Tech
Best Non-BCS vs. BCS matchup: TCU at Clemson
Best non-BCS matchup: Colorado State at BYU
Upset alert: South Florida over Florida State in Tallahassee
Must win: Penn State over Iowa in State College, Pa.
Offensive explosion: Texas Tech at Houston
Defensive struggle: Rutgers at Maryland
Great game no one is talking about: Arkansas at Alabama
Intriguing coaching matchup: California's Jeff Tedford vs. Oregon's Chip Kelly
Why are they playing? Grambling at Oklahoma State
Plenty of good seats remaining: Vanderbilt at Rice

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



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