Notre Dame is a BCS contender. So is Kansas State. Each proved its worthiness with Week 9 routs of top 25 opponents. And since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, there must be pretenders: Oklahoma and Texas Tech were eliminated from title contention in Week 9, as were USC and Rutgers. Oregon State, Florida and Mississippi State are not eliminated, but they teeter awfully close to becoming Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront:
Indeed, there will be no shortage of lamentations of, “We could’ve been a contender.” A common refrain from the pretenders’ Saturday losses is the turnover. Florida gave away six of them in its loss to Georgia, finally tipping on the high wire act that was its offense against an underachieving, yet talented Georgia defense.
USC coughed the ball up five times at Arizona. Once presumptive Heisman trophy winner Matt Barkley threw his seventh and eighth interceptions of the season, continuing on a pace for double digits in the third season of his career. Other Trojans spilled three fumbles on the Arizona Stadium turf Wildcats collected.
With Sean Mannion back behind center, the high-flying Beaver passing attack was grounded at Washington. Mannion’s rust from a two-game layoff was evident in a four-interception performance. OSU fought back in the fourth with Cody Vaz returning to quarterback, but by then it was too little, too late and no In-N-Out.
Mississippi State gave away three turnovers, a positively winning total against the Alabama defense. However, trailing just 7-0 in the first quarter, a blocked field goal after driving deep into Tide territory snuffed out any chance at momentum MSU ever had. Alabama demonstrated what true championship contenders do: they make plays.
Sure, it’s an overly simplified analysis, but no less factual. Notre Dame made plays in the fourth quarter to pull away from Oklahoma, both offensively — like Everett Golson’s 50-yard pass to Chris Brown with the score knotted at 13 — and defensively, including Manti Te’o's Heisman highlight reel interception.
Kansas State erupted for play after play to answer Texas Tech’s initial charge. The Wildcats’ lead was one field goal at halftime, but the third quarter brought a deluge. K-State averaged better than one point for every 10 yards. More impressive is that Tech is the third high-powered, spread offense K-State’s defense has held to to 24 points or fewer. The Red Raiders would have joined West Virginia and Oklahoma as air raid offenses held in the teens were it not for a meaningless, garbage touchdown in the fourth quarter’s waning moments.
The Wildcat defense is the key to K-State’s success, yet an afterthought to the outstanding play of Collin Klein. Week 9 was yet another Davey O’Brien Game of the Week match-up for the K-State quarterback, and yet again he outdueled his counterpart, this week donning his Halloween costume — the Optimus Klein mask — for a 233-yard passing, 83-yard rushing and four total touchdown performance.
K-State and Notre Dame consistently beating quality opponents bolsters their BCS contenders statuses, but merely winning isn’t all that will factor into their final equations. Playing such heavily front-loaded schedules means November slack. Notre Dame plays Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest in the weeks leading up to its road trip to USC — and even that has lost some luster, with the Trojans dropping their second Pac-12 game. The Fighting Irish will be USC’s biggest fan next Saturday when the Trojans host Oregon.
K-State has a much stronger finish, which translates to more potential computer points, but also greater likelihood of a loss. TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State are all bowl-bound; Baylor could be, with some upsets.
The lack of a 13th game for either team puts them at disadvantages against fellow unbeaten Oregon. Yet even with a possible Pac-12 championship, the Ducks could be sweating on BCS Selection Sunday. USC and Oregon State both losing hurt Oregon’s case. The only of the BCS contending coaches whose championship hopes reside solely on his own scoreboards is Nick Saban.
In Saban, you’re looking at Cucumber Boy, as in “cool as a.” Alabama earned a quality win in its Week 9 thrashing of Mississippi State, and still has LSU, Texas A&M and potentially the SEC championship to come. Given the credit the SEC has earned, the Crimson Tide need not worry about any other BCS contenders beyond those trying to state their case from Alabama’s rep.
Heisman voters are a fickle bunch — consider that Matt Barkley’s name was engraved on the award, only to be etched out in favor of Geno Smith. And for a time, Smith’s name was set in stone; only a crazy person would argue otherwise. So in that sense, a fickle lot is also, somehow, astoundingly stubborn. Player X is winning the Heisman and nothing is going to change that! is a chorus sung/shouted/tweeted by many a Heisman voter, and the current Player X is Klein. Some are so bold as to imply Klein’s acceptance is an inevitability.
Le sigh. Broad brushstroke, Heisman voters are like adolescent girls screaming for Justin Beiber like with the exuberance once reserved for the Jonas Brothers. Every now-thing is the greatest anything ever, yet such fervor has the life expectancy of a gnat. So what will it take to snatch away voters’ collective attention from Klein?
AJ McCarron had another perfectly AJ McCarron performance. Alabama’s may not be “your mom’s ball control,” as Barrett Jones described it, but it’s certainly not flashy. McCarron scored two touchdowns and barely surpassed 200 yards, bringing his season totals to 18 and 1684; not the most eye popping, but combined with his clean sheet, enough to generate modest Heisman discussion.
Nick Saban isn’t the type to lead a campaign a la Jim Harbaugh’s for Toby Gerhart in 2009. In fact, Saban completely downplayed McCarron-for-Heisman questions last week:
“We are all for our guys getting recognition and we are pleased and flattered that some of our players are up for awards and have a chance to be recognized for their hard work and effort,” he said. “At the same time, I think that they all need to understand that you have never really arrived in terms of what has happened in the past.”
Translation: BCS championships are what matter in Tuscaloosa. It’s a single-minded pursuit superseding all else, much like Chip Kelly’s mission at Oregon. Kelly could amass mindblowing statistics for Kenjon Barner with his rapid fire offense, but instead amasses insurmountable leads early and sits his starters. A crystal ball is worth a lot more in Eugene than a bronze statue.
UL-Monre has never been to a bowl game, but in Week 9, Todd Berry’s Warhawks earned their sixth win by dumping Sun Belt newcomer South Alabama, 38-24. A sixth win doesn’t guarantee ULM a bow bid, but with a perfect conference record and the league’s top offensive performer, Kolton Browning, the prognosis is positive.
Kent State has a bowl appearance in its football program’s history, albeit one made when head coach Darrell Hazell was eight years old. The Golden Flashes last played in the postseason in 1972 when they faced the now defunct Tampa Spartans program in the Tangerine Bowl. Interesting tidbit, suiting up opposite the Spartans that day was one Nick Saban.
San Diego State overcame a sluggish first half to dispatch UNLV and win the Aztecs’ sixth, thereby reaching bowl eligibility for a third straight season. Prior to last year’s New Orleans Bowl, SDSU had never made consecutive bowl appearances. A third straight postseason
BOISE STATE’S BACKDOOR TO THE BCS
After deserving Bronco teams in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011 were snubbed for BCS berths, the weakest Boise State team since 2007 could make history as the first one-loss, non-automatic qualifying invitee to one of the top tier bowls.
Now, the distinction as the weakest BSU team in recent years is hardly a slight. The 2007 team was Chris Petersen’s last to lose multiple games, and even still surpassed 10 wins. And while this year’s Broncos aren’t up to par with the Kellen Moore era teams, they’re still one of the premiere defenses in college football.
Boise State is typically game for any opponent. Critics have to dig back to 2005 when it wasn’t, and the critics cling to that Georgia loss like a baby to a security blanket. Well, time to let it go. Petersen has established a year-in, year-out nationally prominent program and should be rewarded as such. A decade of success justifies perks, and one such reward could come in a BCS bid. The Pac-12′s outlook for a second BCS entry should Oregon earn the automatic is lessening: USC and Stanford would both fall to three losses should UO run the table. Oregon State greatly diminished its chances with the loss at Washington.
The Big Ten certainly won’t have more than its conference champion represented in the BCS. The Big 12 has a bevy of two-loss teams, still capable of cannibalizing each other. And should Rutgers win the Big East after its loss to Kent State, you can likely forget a one-loss Louisville receiving an at-large bid, given the perception of the conference. Ohio’s fall from the unbeaten also bolsters Boise’s chances.
Should BSU not receive a BCS invitation, the most intriguing bowl opponent for my money would be Louisiana Tech. Unfortunately, that’s highly unlikely given tie-ins for conference champions and the WAC’s limited options. But the Bulldog offense against the Bronco defense would make for a truly entertaining pairing.
- Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Kevin Wilson left Oklahoma, where he had a pretty sweet gig going as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. Wilson developed a Heisman winner in Sam Bradford, and was cultivating Landry Jones’ skills before taking on one of the least enviable tasks in college football. Indiana simply doesn’t win at football, and coaching there is typically
The Hoosiers have a long way to go before contending in the Big Ten, even in a historically down year for the conference. But IU took a baby closer by not just winning its first league game under Wilson, but thoroughly dominating Illinois. While the Hoosiers need a serious overhaul on defense, Wilson’s offensive acumen is evident in the high point totals they’re producing.
There’s also some poetic justice in Indiana securing Wilson’s first Big Ten win over Illinois, the school that produced Jack Trudeau. The former Rose Bowl-bound Illini quarterback needlessly goaded Wilson in a radio interview last summer.
- Sean Parker, Washington
The contributions Sean Parker made to Washington’s 20-17 upset of Oregon State don’t necessarily show in the stat sheet. He finished with three tackles, one of the Huskies’ four interceptions, and batted away three passes. But Parker’s tenacity keyed the aggressive play in the secondary that sparked a second, home win over a top 25 opponent for UW this season.
- Grant Enders & Terrance West, Towson
Towson was a preseason FCS top 10 selection, but the Tigers slipped below .500 and were garnering headlines for unsubstantiated charges leveled against 2011 Eddie Robinson Award winning coach Rob Ambrose by a dismissed senior. Towson went into face red hot Villanova needing to win its final four games for a shot at returning the playoffs, and the dynamic offensive duo of quarterback Grant Enders and running back Terrance West responded.
West (who you may remember from his inspired play against LSU last month) scored three touchdowns, including one on a reception of 78 yards and another on a rush of 48. Enders finished with 269 yards passing and 100 rushing. Their combined stat sheet-stuffing translated to 49 points, and a needed victory.
The Tigers need to leap frog several teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, but have two prime opportunities when they face Delaware next week — a game slated for national broadcast on NBC Sports Network — and in the regular season finale against conference-leading New Hampshire.