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Tag:Pac-10
Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 13



Posted by Bryan Fischer


There's just something about a few helpings of turkey and some good old fashioned hate for a rival football team.

As the season winds down and, in most cases, ends for teams that don't qualify for a bowl game or conference championship, rivalry week is when many schools put all the eggs in the basket to go into the offseason knowing they went out on a high note.

Because of that, there was no better scene in college football this weekend than Lexington, Kentucky.

Despite using a wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries, Kentucky still managed to pull off a win against Tennessee for the first time since 1984. On the whole, it was a disappointing year but the win over the Volunteers will give the team something positive to think about in the offseason. That AD Mitch Barnhart announced that head coach Joker Phillips would be back for sure next season also added to a historic day for the program.

The scene afterward was what college football was all about. Fans rushed the field to celebrate with players, everyone of whom had a gigantic smile on their face. That they attempted just six passes for 15 yards to win ugly didn't matter, a win is a win and this one meant more than the other four they had during the season.

Perhaps it was appropriate that the Wildcats wore black jerseys because it felt afterward like a funeral for Tennessee, who lost out on a chance to go to a bowl game with the loss. The Derek Dooley era is on shaky ground after barely beating Vanderbilt and, now, ending the streak over Kentucky. No doubt the slick-haired, orange pants wearing Dooley had to take over a difficult situation but it's still Tennessee. There are players there and the defense isn't too bad with Justin Wilcox running things but there has been zero consistency.

The losses are one thing for Dooley but the lack of wins might be the most concerning part if you're a Vols fan. He's never beaten a ranked team and has no signature victory that he can hold his hat on. You can understand why they're clamoring for his head in Knoxville.

It was a slightly different scene in College Station - except for the clamoring for the head coach's head part.

It was once again a second half to forget for Texas A&M, as they ended their final scheduled game with Texas by falling on their face. There was plenty of optimism coming in that the Aggies would get the last laugh before leaving for the SEC but it was the Longhorn players who had no problem starting up an "S-E-C!" chant following the victory.

"Sports can be really cruel," Mack Brown said. "I think it was a time tonight where both teams deserved to win."

After 118 meetings, it was pretty cruel for things to end that way. Kyle Field had erupted following Ryan Tannehill's pass to Jeff Fuller for a 16 yard touchdown to take the lead but was silent after Justin Tucker's 40 yard field goal sailed through the uprights.

"They played their hearts out tonight," Tucker said. "But sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good."

Nothing like beating a rival.

Stat of the week

In 26 games among BCS AQ schools or ranked non-AQ schools on Saturday, just two were within seven points and the average margin of victory was 20 points.

Stats of week

- Alabama held Auburn to a 3-and-out on 7-of-10 drives and now has 72 3-and-outs in 143 opponent drives (50.3%)

- Since 2007, Tennessee and Kentucky are both 33-31. The Wildcats beat the Vols for the first time in 26 games, a span of 9,863 days. Tennessee finishes the year with consecutive losing records for the first time since 1910-11.

- Texas A&M was outscored 76-7 in the third quarter of their losses.

- Via the AP, Nebraska has nine or more wins for the 38th time in 42 seasons (90%).

 - LSU's secondary has scored as many touchdowns (6) as they've allowed.

Yard-by-yard

- Not sure if Trent Richardson helped win the Heisman with his career-high 203 yards in the Iron Bowl but he did nothing but bolster his resume. Remarkably the score at halftime was the same (24-7) as it was a year ago when some guy named Cam wiped out the deficit on the way to a championship. There would be no comeback from the Tigers this time thanks in large part to the suffocating Tide defense that allowed just 140 yards of offense. The lone bright spot for the home team was Onterio McCalebb's 83-yard kick return (the first ever in Iron Bowl history) that seemed to give the team some hope before Alabama quickly closed the door. All in all, a dominating effort for a team that has well over a month to prepare for their rematch with LSU.

- Impressive season for Louisville's Charlie Strong, who has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country by clinching at least a share of the Big East title with a win 34-24 over South Florida. Early losses, including one to FIU, seemed to show that the team was at least a year away from being in contention in the league but Strong righted the ship and freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has really come on as of late, passing for three touchdowns against USF. Amazingly, the win snapped a 16-game losing streak in the state of Florida during the regular season. That the Cardinals are in contention for a BCS bowl berth boggles the mind if you watched this team early in the year.

- You would not have expected Rex Burkhead to play against Iowa if you saw him on Monday when he had his foot in a walking boot. He shredded the boot by Saturday however and had no issues pounding away at the Hawkeyes defense, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska's 20-7 win. Surprisingly, his 38 carries were a school-record and came just a week after one of his worst games of his career against Michigan. It was just part of a punishing offensive attack against Iowa that gave the team an amazing 16 minute time of possession advantage. You can tell why Bo Pellini decided to keep things on the ground after Taylor Martinez tossed a few arm punts early in the game.

- Andrew Luck's final home game ended on a high note as he passed John Elway's school record for career touchdown passes and gave Heisman voters some more to think about. Beating a marquee opponent like Notre Dame on national television helps too, as the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and never really lost control of the game.

- Down the road in Los Angeles, Matt Barkley made his case to be invited to New York. In what could have been his final game in cardinal and gold, he passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns on a record setting night to throttle UCLA 50-0. "One more year" chants were heard throughout the game but it was a heck of a way for USC to end their bowl ban and put an exclamation point on what has been a terrific season under Lane Kiffin. Things aren't too pretty for the other side as the Bruins were not only humiliated at the Coliseum, but likely will be blitzed just as bad in the Pac-12 Championship game. The "gap" between the two programs that Rick Neuheisel talked about being closed appeared to have never been wider than it was Saturday night.

- Tulsa was supposed to represent Houston's stiffest test of the season but the trip to Oklahoma proved to be anything but as the Cougars rolled in the second half to secure Conference USA hosting duties. As good as Case Keenum was at quarterback, Patrick Edwards was the star of the show, grabbing four touchdowns and 181 yards to break the conference career record for receiving yards. The Golden Hurricanes had been undefeated in league play but Keenum found Edwards on 4th down in the 3rd quarter and it was away they go. Houston converted several 4th downs and built up style points as Keenum threw for 457 yards and a ho-hum five touchdowns before being pulled. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Cougars defense, who held a normally high-scoring Tulsa attack to just 16 points.

- When Arkansas came into Baton Rouge, the Hogs represented the toughest passing attack LSU would see all season. Luckily the Tigers had the nation's best secondary and one player in particular - the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu is simply a playmaker whenever his team needs it most and you could tell Friday when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown that seemed to turn the tide just when it looked like Arkansas was making a game of it. The offense was pretty good too, with Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and even Jordan Jefferson (despite a boneheaded play or two) causing the Razorbacks defense issues. The 21 third quarter points - keyed in part by Mathieu - might have pushed LSU ahead but it was the rushing attack in the 4th quarter that turned a solid win into a blowout. It's no surprise that plenty of people invoked the name Billy Cannon after the game considering that the last time there was a top-three match up in Death Valley, Cannon returned a punt for a score against Ole Miss. Of course it was Mathieu doing the honors this time as the Tigers kept their record perfect on the road to Atlanta and on to New Orleans.

- If you had to say a team was due before the year was up, Colorado was a good choice. The Buffaloes, despite their record, had a pretty decent offense but just couldn't perform on defense or on the road. Although Utah was at home and playing for a chance to go to the Pac-12 title game, the Buffs jumped out to an early lead and managed to hang on to beat the Utes 17-14. Normally reliable field goal kicker Coleman Petersen missed the final kick with seconds left to go 0-3 on the day and diminish Utah's hopes of a solid debut season in a BCS conference. What was billed as the start of a new rivalry between new conference foes turned out to be a historic win for Colorado, as the team ended a 23-game road losing streak. Utah was hampered by the loss of running back John White but there was no question that they should have won this game but a few breaks went the way of CU. Before the season head coach Jon Embree talked about putting up bricks to build a wall of success that the program had done in its glory days and on a chilly Friday afternoon, he added one more thanks to the upset on the road.

- The Countdown Clock on the Columbus Dispatch's website was probably already setup to change following Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game. Things were closer than expected in the Wolverines 40-34 win at the Big House, a testament to just how hard the Buckeyes fought to keep their streak alive. Braxton Miller was great until his final play, an interception to seal the game, and out-played his counterpart Denard Robinson for much of the afternoon. UM got the last laugh when the gun sounded by ending a streak that had gone nearly 3,000 days but if there was one take away from the annual rivalry game, it's that Miller should be fun to watch in Urban Meyer's offense.

- Most impressive victory this weekend might have been Wisconsin throttling Penn State 45-7. The Nittany Lions have the best defense in the Big Ten but they were ran over by Montee Ball, who scored four touchdowns and has a chance at setting the NCAA single-season record. The rematch with Michigan State for a trip to the Rose Bowl just got a little more interesting.

- If you haven't been able to watch Luke Kuechly play linebacker at Boston College, you missed out on one of the hardest working players in the game. Don't worry, he'll probably be a 10+ year vet in the NFL so there should be plenty of chances to see him in the future though. Surprisingly, Kuechly didn't reach the double-digit tackles plateau for the first time since his freshman year but he did run back an interception for a touchdown and made life tough for Miami in a 24-17 upset. The talented 'backer also became the school's all-time tackles leader and showed why he could be a potential first round pick if he decides to leave school early. On the flip side, Jacory Harris - after perhaps his best season - reverted to the Harris of old by tossing four interceptions in his final college game. While there were not many people watching (in the stands or on TV), the result was overshadowed by the news of the day as Miami announced head coach Al Golden had agreed to a four-year extension that would keep in in Coral Gables until 2020.

- In a/the Backyard Brawl, all rules are off. The intense series between Pitt and West Virginia faced an uncertain future with both moving to different conferences but on the field in 2011 the two had no problem giving everybody a compelling game. The Panthers had jumped out to a 17-7 half-time lead but were simply shut down by a swarming Mountaineers defense in the second half that kept things close enough that the sputtering WVU offense could eventually cash-in a game-winning touchdown. It was a wild ending in a series full of them but Dana Holgorsen's squad managed to pull things out. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri had a rough night, being sacked 10 (!) times, four of which came on a crazy final drive.

- If you want to know why Dennis Erickson was shown the door at Arizona State, look no further than the late night showdown against an improving California team. It was in many ways it was young (Bears) against and the old (Sun Devils). Erickson's squad was trying to salvage the season and his job, Jeff Tedford's group was trying to build upon the second half of their season. It was a defense-optional shootout like the Pac-10 days of old but Cal managed to force four turnovers that likely ended up as the deciding factor. Credit to Tedford who helped his cause while Erickson killed his, this was a fun game but defense - surprisingly - decided things and that ended up in Cal's favor.

- In terms of surprises, Virginia Tech shutting out a hot Virginia team at home might be highly ranked on the list. It was the Cavaliers first home shutout loss since 1984 and they had zero ground game to speak of (30 yards on 26 carries). It was likely the Hokies best win of the season to date and continued a strong run by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Tweet of the week

"USC card stunts say "We run LA." Based on how poorly the city is run, I would not brag about that.

- Chris Huston, The Hesiman Pundit

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. USC

6. Oregon

7. Boise State

8. Arkansas

9. Houston

10. Virginia Tech


Where we'll be this week

I draw the early assignment and will head up Eugene for the Pac-12 Championship game with Oregon and UCLA on Friday. Eye on College Football bloggers Chip Patterson and Adam Jacobi will head to the ACC and Big Ten Championships respectively. Brett McMurphy makes the trip to see Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State while Dennis Dodd joins Tony Barnhart in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Leaning this way

Georgia vs. LSU

Do the Bulldogs have a chance? No, not really. Even if they did, it appears the Tigers are locked into a trip to the BCS National Championship game in New Orleans either way. Les Miles' secondary already took care of the best quarterback in the SEC West last week and will do pretty much the same to the best quarterback in the SEC East down in Atlanta.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Don't let the loss to Iowa State fool you, Oklahoma State is still a very good team and their opportunistic defense should enjoy playing Landry Jones on the road. The Sooners haven't really been the same team they were earlier in the season thanks to several injuries - their top running back and wide receiver among them - and they've had their troubles at Boone Pickens Stadium before. Expect it to be close but ultimately the Cowboys will win the game and the Big 12.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State

These teams are so evenly matched that it took a hail mary for the Spartans to beat the Badgers the first time. That pass isn't something that Wisconsin players forgot about and have a chance to avenge it for a trip to the Rose Bowl. The offense has been rolling the past couple of weeks behind Montee Ball and Russell Wilson so look for them to do some damage against Michigan State the second time around.


Posted on: November 20, 2011 11:58 am
Edited on: November 20, 2011 12:08 pm
 

Pac-12 Winners and Losers: Week 12



Posted by Bryan Fischer


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: USC

It's hard to get more maligned than the Trojans were. They had their legs chopped off by the NCAA. There were plenty of doubters after back-to-back "down" years. There was no bowl at the end of the season and, to many outside of Heritage Hall, no hope. This team was loaded with enough highly recruited players that coach after coach kept calling USC the most talented team in the Pac-12 however. Still they sat at the lowest ranking in school history with an 8-2 record and couldn't even move up a spot in the polls despite teams losing ahead of them and a blow out win against Washington. It was like Rodney Dangerfield was the athletic director and Lane Kiffin was the head coach.

But this team, young and inexperienced in key spots, took the school's 'Fight On' motto and ran with it. Their losses were self-inflicted (turnovers against both Arizona State and Stanford did them in) but the wins and numbers put up were impressive. The offense is one of the best in the country led by Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and emerging star Marqise Lee. The defense is passable but improving. Yet they were a two touchdown underdog for the first time since 1998. The Trojans shocked the college football world Saturday night in Eugene, no doubt about it. Amid the chaos of a crazy week 12, USC emerged victorious and the players in cardinal and gold told everybody that their brief hiatus away from the top was over. The Trojans may not be conference champs and will sit at home with no bowl game to go to but they appear to be back, even if some insist they never left. Fight on indeed.

LOSER: Larry Scott

There was a chance the Pac-12 was in the BCS re-match discussion come Sunday morning but that ended as soon as it looked like Oregon's slow start would be too much to overcome. Thanks to Arizona State's loss to lowly Arizona, the Pac-12 South is rivaling the SEC East and ACC for mediocrity with USC ineligible. Two-loss Oregon will likely head to the Rose Bowl while one-loss Stanford's BCS chances (and millions of dollars for the conference coffers) will likely boil down to luck and some bowl committee betting on Andrew Luck. The team that can't go to a bowl has inflicted losses that hurt more than one team's perception. Then again, Scott isn't too much of a loser considering the cash that will soon flow to the league with the new media deals he deftly negotiated.

WINNER: The SEC

Let's face it, the fans on the West Coast are not best buddies with those in the Southeast section of the country. The SEC fans think the Pac-12 folks have no earthly idea what defense is while those with an ocean view think those with a gulf view have no idea what offense is. Oregon's loss ended any talk of an LSU rematch and shut the conference out of the title game discussion and partially out of the national picture. On the bright side, they're not the ACC, Big East or Big Ten.

LOSER: Oregon's swagger

The Pac-12 has been Oregon's playground the past few years. Back-to-back league titles (of the Pac-10 variety), a 19 game win streak in the conference, a trip to the Rose Bowl and national championship game. USC's dynasty was cool with the celebrities on the sidelines but the Ducks, they had a different kind of spotlight and a different kind of swagger. Uniforms? Most, um... unique in college football. The recruits love them. Offense? Check and check. If you were playing Oregon, better bring your A-game and you just might hang with them for the first half. The video production team was top-notch too, how could anyone not get pumped up after watching something like this:



The swagger that every Oregon player, every Duck fan, carried around with them after Saturday is still there. There is, without a doubt, a significant part of the luster taken off of the program after the loss to USC however. Boise State, Auburn and LSU proved they were beatable but the Trojans proved they were no longer to be feared afer going into Autzen and smacking the Ducks around for three quarters and holding on in the fourth. Another conference title and Rose Bowl berth likely await the men in green/yellow/black/silver/etc. come January but the recent loss meant a significant hit to Oregon's swagger. 

WINNER: Pistol Rick

UCLA's final home game of the season was a must win for Rick Neuheisel if he was to show enough progress to keep his job. Not only did the Bruins get bowl eligble, but they kept their improbable run to a division title alive with a 45-6 win over Colorado. Style points helped too, outgaining the Buffaloes 553-229 and help run off three wins in four games. After last week's loss to Utah, who really knows if the program has turned the corner but for Neuheisel, who wants to win at his alma matter more than anyone else, a big win at the Rose Bowl will certainly go a long ways after the season.

LOSER: Jon Embree

Embree is a Colorado alum and desperately wanted to end the Buffs' 23 game road losing streak. Family bragging rights were up for grabs too as Embree's son, Taylor, was a wide receiver at UCLA and said the game meant "eternal bragging rights" earlier in the week. The younger Embree had just two catches for 13 yards but can always call out scoreboard whenever family arguments break out. Given the way Colorado played - putting a solid claim on being the conference bottom-dweller - there weren't many positive things the elder Embree could take home Saturday.

LOSER: LeBron James

One of several NBA All-Stars at Autzen for the USC-Oregon Game, James and his fellow jobless companions watched most of the game from the Ducks sidelines. With a reputation for failing to close out games, naturally LeBron was a frequent (i.e. easy) target to make fun of on various social media platforms following the loss to the Trojans. It seems as though the man who took his talents to South Beach just can't win so he kind of has to be made a loser this weekend.

WINNER: West Coast Heisman hopes

Andrew Luck lost his grip on the lead for the Heisman Trophy last week but looked much sharper against Cal to help his stock rebound some. The big mover was Matt Barkley, who has the numbers to get to New York and now has the signature win to piggyback on. After this weekend, it seems like both signal-callers will at least make the trip East to lay their claim on college football's most prestigious award.

WINNER: Snow games

Utah has been welcomed to the Pac-12 with open arms and gone from the desert heat of Arizona to the perfect weather of Southern California to - this week against Washington State - the snowy conditions of the Pacific Northwest. The Utes came out with a close, 30-27 overtime win in a Palouse snow storm. The victory gave the Utes hope of making an appearance in the Pac-12 title game and it was fun to see a few photos from so that has to put snow games in the winners column.

LOSER: Pac-12 athletic directors

There's an opening at Arizona and Dennis Erickson's loss to the Wildcats likely means he's headed out of Tempe. Neuheisel's status is still TBD after the season and though there's progress on the Palouse, it's doubtful Paul Wulff keeps his job. That means the athletic directors around the Pac-12, flush with some new media deal cash, will have to go make some important hires. Already the rumor mill has placed Mike Bellotti, Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach at a school out West and speculation is only bound to heat up more as the regular season winds down. There's going to be plenty of pressure to make the right hire and just as importantly for some ADs, go out on a limb and let a coach go. Going to be an interesting, stress-filled weeks for a few well paid people heading Pac-12 athletic departments.

Posted on: November 16, 2011 8:33 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 8:35 pm
 

Pac-12 looking at changing dates of rivalry games

Posted by Bryan Fischer

2012 will mark the end of several historic rivalries (Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas to name a few) due to conference realignment and while the school shuffling won't end any of the Pac-12's longstanding rivalry games, it might force a few of them to move to a different date on the calendar.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, games such as the Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State and the Big Game between Stanford and California could be moved from their traditional late November dates to earlier in the month or even October.

“Given the complexities of the scheduling,” Pac-12 deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg told Jon Wilner, “we can’t commit to having the rivalry games stay on Thanksgiving week or the weekend before Thanksgiving.”

Obviously the league office is going to try to be as accommodating as possible and will look to minimize the scheduling issues but with the new Pac-12 media deal with ESPN/Fox starting next year and the launch of the Pac-12 Network, it's likely that not every game will be able to stay in its traditional spot on the schedule. The report notes that the number of Saturdays in the month of November will likely determine how many and which games move. Sources told Wilner that the Bay Area game is the most likely to be moved next season.

The situation can’t be avoided. The conference has limited flexibility with the schedule due to several factors:

* The Pac-12 championship game now occupies the first weekend in December, thereby eating up a Saturday previous used by some schools for their 12th regular-season game.

* The Thanksgiving Saturday games involving Stanford (odd years) and USC (even years) against Notre Dame.

* The reluctance on the part of some schools to play rivalry games on Thanksgiving weekend.

One of the best things about football in the conference formerly known as the Pac-10 was that each school had a natural rival in the state that made for a continent travel partner. The move to the Pac-12 will fill the coffers every athletic department but if there's a price to be paid, it's that they might have an earlier than usual rivalry game.

It might be disruptive to a few and upsetting for some fans but looks like something that nobody can do anything about.



Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:03 pm
 

Keys to the game: Oregon at Stanford

Posted by Bryan Fischer

OREGON WILL WIN IF: The Ducks will have to use their biggest advantage on both sides of the ball, speed, over the much more physical Cardinal team if they're going to come out of Palo Alto with a victory. The offense is close to being healthy with LaMichael James looking like his old self against Washington last week despite a bulky pad over his injured elbow. Unlike some teams, Oregon can run effectively between the tackles and then bounce it outside but only if the offensive line does a good job with the Stanford front four. It will be a test for the secondary against Andrew Luck and his big targets at tight end but something defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti adjusted to last year.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: The Cardinal are a bit banged up but will receive a big boost with the return of starting safety Delano Howell, who will be key in providing support against both the passing and the running game. Oregon is 62nd in the country in total defense and Stanford should be able to move the ball effectively with running back Stepfan Taylor and the best player in college football in Luck. This game looks like it will turn into an old Pac-10 shootout so getting a key defensive stop or making a big play in special teams will likely be a determining factor in Stanford picking up a win. 

X-FACTOR: Battle in the trenches. Against Washington last week, Oregon's front seven did a great job of blitzing and getting penetration to shut down running lanes and pressure the quarterback. They'll face a stiffer test this week against one of the best offensive lines in college football, which has given up the fewest sacks in the country. On the other side, if Stanford's defensive line can make quarterback Darron Thomas uncomfortable, they could force him into making mistakes.

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Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 9



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.

Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.

Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.

2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.

Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.

Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.

The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.

USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.

Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.

The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.

Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.

Stat of the week

Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.

Stats of the week

- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.

- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.

- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.

- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.

- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.

- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.

- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.

- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.

Yard-by-yard

- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.

- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.

- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.

- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.

- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).

- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.

- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.

- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.

- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.

- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.

- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.

- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.

- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.

- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.

- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.

Tweet of the week

"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."

- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.

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Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Arkansas

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.

Leaning this way

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.

South Carolina at Arkansas

On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.

LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)

The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.

Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:41 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:03 am
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 2

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College football's encore weekend not only lived up to expectations, but beat them.

It also caused at least few hearts to skip a beat or two around the country. It seemed like every channel you were on, there was a game coming down to the wire or ready to head to overtime. From the noon games to the night games, last Saturday was one big, drama-filled day.

Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-Utah, Cal-Colorado, Washington-Hawaii, North Carolina-Rutgers, Auburn-Mississippi State, Ohio State-Toledo, Texas-BYU, Iowa State-Iowa, Vanderbilt-UConn and several others left everyone on the edge of their seats. There weren't a ton of great defenses among the group but that didn't hamper the fun as teams either came back or fell just short. Heck, the first night game in Ann Arbor had as much drama as any of them in just 72 seconds.

One game I was really looking forward to going into Saturday was between the Hedges and that game more than lived up to expectations and put one coach in even hotter water.

The game seemed to be South Carolina personified. It's why everybody's hand trembled writing them in to win the SEC East this year. Not only was it the Gamecocks' history but they had a quarterback who frustrated fans and Old Ball Coaches alike in Stephen Garcia. When he threw his first interception of the game, it was simply Garcia being Garcia. The ESPN director, as if he understood perfectly, cut to a shot of Garcia with his hands on his hips, staring down his mistake while clinching his lips and a coach yelling at him. Later in the game he rolled out of the pocket and threw a beautiful pass that reminded everybody of his talent. Again, just Garcia being Garcia.

This is a good and very talented Gamecocks team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday if they don't wind up beating themselves first.

“Georgia outplayed us, give them credit, they outplayed us but somehow or another we won the game,” Steve Spurrier said post game. “Somehow it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight.”

Running back Marcus Lattimore broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown as the team rode him for 27 carries. USC will have to be wearing of overusing Lattimore because he's the key to their success but at least he had 10 fewer carries than he did against the Bulldogs a year ago. His ability to find just a little hole and take off is special and he certainly can run very hard between the tackles.

On the other side of the ball, how scary is the Gamecocks' defensive line? We knew it was going to be good but maybe not quite this nasty. Melvin Ingram was superb, taking a fake punt 68 yards for a touchdown and scooping up a fumble for a touchdown after fellow end Jadeveon Clowney nearly took off the head of UGA quarterback Aaron Murray. Only in the SEC do 275-pound defensive ends score twice in a game and run 68 yards while doing so.

The thing about Clowney, the nation's consensus number one recruit out of high school, is how he stands out on every snap just due to his size. Then, as soon as the ball is snapped, he stands out for his explosiveness and physicality - making you drop your job and say 'Wow' a couple of times a game. Heck, Murray might want to leave school early just to get away from him. Clowney still isn't up to speed mentally but it's coming and coming quickly. If you're an SEC quarterback with South Carolina on the schedule, prepare your ice bath in advance.

For Mark Richt, he might have to go bang his head against the wall a few times after every game. He's had injuries and suspensions and even NCAA issues thrown his way but there's still no getting around the fact that this is a good group of players who haven't lived up to expectations. Just when it seemed like Georgia was about to break through, they'd commit a big error. The good news is it looked like freshman running back Isaiah Crowell got going, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown after breaking a few nice runs into the open field. But even as he took two steps forward, his fumble at midfield that Stephon Gilmore returned to the red zone was a step back. He's still a little behind in pass protection but the flashes he showed reminded everybody, coaches included, why he was so highly recruited out of high school.

The biggest thing that Richt can do next week is get his team to have fun against Coastal Carolina. There will be no avoiding hearing about his job status as the heat was turned up even higher after the loss - he has to get his team refocused before starting the heart of their SEC schedule. Get everybody involved, call some trick plays, something - anything - to get his team focused on having fun playing football instead of worrying about him. He can't eliminate all the distractions but he can get his team to buy back in week-by-week. The schedule is manageable enough that they could conceivably go 10-2 this year - more than enough to quiet critics for a few more months. The Bulldogs are talented but lost to two teams they should have to fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

Now the trick is winning out using their own talented roster. No easy task but one that can certainly happen.

Stat of the week

If I had to take someone to Vegas with me, I just might select Gene Chizik. All he seems to do is give heart attack to the Auburn faithful and win last second games. The Tigers pulled off the upset this week against Mississippi State thanks to a goal line stand that kept quarterback Chris Relf out of the end zone by inches to preserve a 41-34 win at home.

"We'd prefer to win football games a lot different than we are, but there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still win the game," Chizik said after the game.

While the head coach certainly would prefer a less stressful ending to games, he might need to get used to them if his team is to keep winning. After taking nearly two hours just to play the first half against the Bulldogs, I was digging around looking for the total game time but managed to find an even more eye-popping stat.

Auburn's offense has averaged 56.5 plays during their first two games while the defense has averaged 90.5 snaps per game. Yes, the defense is almost literally on the field twice as long the offense. For a young team with issues on both sides of the ball, that's an uh-oh.

For comparison's sake, Arkansas has averaged 74.5 plays on offense and 57.5 on defense during their light non-conference schedule. Only two SEC teams have average more than 70 snaps on defense, and just six teams nationally have their defense on the field for more than 80 plays a game. No one even approaches 90 defensive plays a game. The national average for number of plays on defense is 67.3 and 68.8 on offense.

Up against that little issue, it's almost shocking Auburn's 2-0 but they are thanks to some late game heroics. Whether this is a serious flaw of just the byproduct of two crazy games remains to be seen but, bottom-line, Chizik needs to make some adjustments.

Other stats of note

- Michigan's Denard Robinson thrilled the country against Notre Dame and became the first UM quarterback to beat the Irish twice since Jim Harbaugh did so back in the late 1980's. He also has accounted for an astounding 96% of the offense the last two games between the schools.

- Texas has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the second half while USC outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter for just the fourth time in 15 games this weekend.

- Tyler Bray's 405 yards are the most for a Tennessee quarterback since the legend himself, Peyton Manning, wore orange. Bray finished 34-of-41 and tossed four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both had 10 catches for over 100 yards and the pair combined for three TD receptions.

- In the last 11 years, the Georgia-South Carolina series has only been decided by nine points or less eight times. Since 2004, the winner has had fewer than 20 points every year but 2009 and 2011.

- Alabama has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter for seven straight games.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine once again this year. He has a nation's-best 35 total tackles while the next closest player has 27.

Yard-by-yard

- What an impressive, almost surgical attack led by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys' offense came out and pretty much blew away the Arizona secondary on Thursday en route to a 37-14 win in Stillwater. Weeden connected on his 13 passes and finished up with a ho-hum 397 yards after slowing down in the second half. He's flown under the radar a little bit (even in his own state) but in 15 starts, he has only two losses by a total of 16 points. It's sometime easy to say a lot of his success is due to receiver Justin Blackmon but Weeden is the triggerman for what the team does. This team can also run the ball pretty well - Joseph Randle is 15th in the country in rushing - and should make for a fun Big 12 regular season when they play fellow top 15 teams Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- Senior writer Bruce Feldman touched on FIU in his Sunday column but what a win for Mario Cristobal's program. Their win over Louisville was the first win ever for the program over BCS team and showed that the Golden Panthers are more than just the dynamic all-purpose superstar T.Y. Hilton. They take on another rising in-state program in UCF this week and if they can pull off the upset, a run at going undefeated isn't out of the question. It will be tough to stop the Knights but FIU has the athletes and coaches to make it a game.

- Speaking of Louisville, their game against Kentucky might be downright unwatchable. Louisville is a mess offensively and their defense is suspect. Luckily for Charlie Strong, they'll face a Kentucky team that has serious issues with both lines. It's going to really be rough once the Wildcats get into SEC play this year if they continue to play as sloppy as they have been during their first two games. Fans from both schools are probably counting down the days until basketball season already.

- If there's one thing that might be different under Luke Fickell at Ohio State, it's the offense is involving the tight end more. Senior Jake Stoneburner came into the season with 22 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games this season he has eight catches for 93 yards and four TD's and seems to be one of quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite targets. The Buckeyes haven't look completely in rhythm on offense but that's not Stoneburner's fault.

- Not sure what to make of Texas' win over BYU other than it's a baby step back to respectability. Garrett Gilbert's not who Mack Brown wanted him to be coming out of camp, looking shaky again with some bad decisions before being pulled for David Ash and Case McCoy. Using Ash in some zone read situations was a good change of pace and was a productive play with their speed at running back - a group that finally got going, including freshman Malcolm Brown. The defense still is a concern, as BYU seemed to pick apart the middle of the field. Might take awhile for everybody to get comfortable with Manny Diaz' system but there's some talent on the team. Baby steps.

- Two quarterbacks in the Northwest were rolling this weekend. In Oregon, Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense seemed to be back in their normal sixth-gear against Nevada. Thomas had just 13 attempts - after throwing for 54 against LSU - but six of them were for touchdowns on Saturday. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas had over 200 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He's a small but tough back who has speed to burn, should be fun to see what Chip Kelly does with him as he learns more of the playbook.

At Washington, Keith Price got the Huskies off to a 2-0 start by throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on his first eight throws and has spread the ball around to a good receiving group well. Things got a little tight against Hawaii but Price and running back Chris Polk kept the Huskies moving. This team may not be a top 15-caliber squad but they're certainly going to give others fits if they can stop playing down to their competition at times.

- I was a bit shocked to see that Clemson opened up as a favorite against Auburn this week, their own issues aside. Dabo Swinney's club struggled against Wafford and things are not going to get any easier. The offense is productive in the stat sheet but in they're still struggling to adjust to Chad Morris' system. The rush defense in particular is very concerning, ranking 107th in the country after two games against a Sun Belt and an FCS opponent.

- Several people in the Alabama program told me that the Crimson Tide defense might be the best ever under Nick Saban. After watching two games, I think they're close to being right. The score was a bit closer than expected against Penn State at 27-11 but this is a very good group. They look faster and deeper than the national championship squad a couple of years ago and are not the opposing quarterback's best friend, to say the least.

Pulling Rank

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Texas A&M

6. Stanford

7. Wisconsin

8. Florida State

9. Oklahoma State

10. South Carolina

Where we'll be this week

I'll be out at the Ineligible Bowl, Ohio State at Miami on Saturday. Senior writer Brett McMurphy is in Tallahassee for the top five showdown of Oklahoma and Florida State.

Across the goal line

There were a series of firsts in the USC-Utah game I was at this weekend. Trojans kicker Andre Heidari recorded the first points in Pac-12 conference history while teammate Marc Tyler will be in the record books for scoring the first touchdown. Thanks to their 17-14 win over the Utes, USC won the final Pac-10 game and the very first Pac-12 game.

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Wait, excuse me, thanks to their 23-14 victory.

In many ways, the first ever Pac-12 conference game - which wasn't really true because Colorado and Cal played earlier that day in an overtime "non-conference" game - featured many of the same elements of its Pac-10 predecessors. There were big plays on offense, a close game, USC on national (cable) television at night and, oh yeah, an officiating controversy.

As I walked down the steps of the Coliseum toward the field right before their drive, I kept thinking this was a welcome to the conference moment for Utah. Boy was it ever.

I was about 10 yards away when, on 4th down, DeVonte Christopher caught an in-route that seemed to fall just short of the first down marker. It seemed like a bad spot but the refs said it was a turnover on downs. Then they reviewed it, remarked the spot and gave Utah a first down. Saved by Pac-10… er, -12 replay officials.

Then there was the pass interference call on the next play. That set up the Utes' field goal attempt. I couldn't quite see the holder but was looking at the middle of the line in case the kick was blocked. Next thing I know the ball is bouncing right into the hands of USC corner Torin Harris and he's off to the end zone. The crowd and sidelines were going crazy as he raced to the end zone. I turned to talk to a colleague and saw a few players run out to get a better angle on the return. Seconds later I saw the flag, then the announcement that the game was over. The touchdown didn't count, but the game was over.

What just happened I wondered. Duty, however, called as I tried to grab a few players to talk about the win (or, in the case of the Utes, loss). I kept thinking how close Utah had gotten and, in their first conference game, they had played like they belonged despite coming up short in the win column. They came into a storied venue and almost knocked off the conference's most storied program. Utah is a good team that was well coached but wasn't quite good enough on a beautiful Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Then there was a tweet that popped up as I got back to the press box to begin transcribing. Hold your horses, the score was in question. The Pac-12 was reviewing what happened at the end of the game. As Michael Lev of the O.C. Register noted down on the field, the touchdown had huge implications for bettors across the country with USC favored by 8-8.5 points.

That's when the story changed from Utah being not quite good enough to, apparently, the Pac-12 officials "miss-communicating" and they were actually nine points from being good enough.

It was an unusual ending that I'm still trying to get my head around because the score itself changed after the fact - regardless what the conference says. The Caesars, MGM and Wynn sports books apparently stayed with the 17-14 result. The Hilton, Cantor, South Point sports books switched to 23-14. Some honored both. If you threw away a winning ticket, that is a bad beat that will be with you for a long time.

A finish that was wild, unbelievable and involved money. In a roundabout way, the first ever Pac-12 game got me very prepared for the Ineligible Bowl next week.

I knew you were good Larry Scott, didn't know you were this good.

Posted on: September 6, 2011 5:51 pm
 

Brandon Willis officially enrolls at UCLA

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Defensive tackle Brandon Willis has landed has landed at UCLA. Again.

After initially committing to Tennessee as a senior in high school (twice), Willis signed a letter of intent with North Carolina after Lane Kiffin's staff left for USC. After six months in Chapel Hill, he then packed up his bags and headed west to UCLA in March. He lasted all of seven months in Westwood before deciding to transfer back to the Tar Heels in March. In August, he announced he was leaving UNC once again.

Now he's back with the Bruins and enrolled in classes, the school has announced. He will begin practicing with the team, which badly needs healthy defensive linemen, Tuesday afternoon but will not be eligible to play in a game. The school has begun the NCAA waiver process in order to get him eligible to play this season but he will only be able to practice until it is completed.

So it looks like Willis is back where he began (transferring to), just with a few more frequent flier miles in his account. Heck, Willis could be the first person to be on a Pac-10, Pac-12 and ACC team before finally playing a down in the Pac-16.
Posted on: August 17, 2011 4:50 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 5:38 pm
 

SI regional preview covers are so totally cursed

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Despite the best efforts of the Worst ... Offseason ... Ever, it appears the 2011 college football season really is on the verge of getting underway. Your latest evidence? The Sports Illustrated season preview is on its way to newsstands, featuring five regional covers that look something like this:



That's the South Carolina/Alshon Jeffery version, but also available will be covers featuring (left to right), Stanford's Andrew Luck, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Nebraska's Jared Crick and Oklahoma's Landry Jones.

Much of the initial Internet reaction has focused on Jeffery looking, ahem, not quite as svelte as Gamecock fans might like, but the much bigger issue (no pun intended) is that Jeffery's on the cover at all. SI has been producing their multi-pronged regional covers since 2005, and in those six years the fortunes of the teams that have appeared there have been up-and-down, to put it politely. You might even say that these regional covers seem to be ... you know ... cursed.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's the year-by-year breakdown, with a tally of how many teams finished their cover season happy with how it played out:

2010: Boy, did SI pick the wrong year to spotlight defense in its preview coverage; Auburn and Oregon faced off for the national championship with the two most statistically generous defenses in BCS title game history. SI didn't do so hot picking out the right teams to feature, either; Alabama finished fourth in their own division, Boise State saw its most talented team yet finish the year in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Texas, of course, collapsed in a 5-7 heap. We'll be generous and give SI the benefit of the doubt on Ohio State, thanks to the Buckeyes' Sugar Bowl victory. Happy tally: 1 of 4

2009: This year, SI picked out four "party crashers" who would "shake up the BCS." Oops: this was the season the Longhorns and the SEC champion (be it Alabama or No. 1 Florida) seemed destined for their eventual title tilt by the end of September. Double oops: of the four teams picked, only Pac-10 champion Oregon earned a BCS berth at all. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State met in the Cotton Bowl after losing a combined seven games and finishing outside the top 20; Penn State finished a distant third in the Big Ten, having been blown out by both Iowa and the Buckeyes. Happy tally: 1 of 4

2008: SI did have the good sense to spend their final cover of five on Tim Tebow's Gators, the eventual national champions. But three of their other four were duds: preseason No. 1 Georgia lost three games, including routs at the hands of the Tide and Gators; Missouri plummeted from No. 3 to No. 25 after losing three in the regular season and getting drilled by 41 in the Big 12 championship game; and Ohio State was blasted out of the national title race via a 35-3 beatdown from USC, then lost the Big Ten title at home to the Nittany Lions. The Trojans' 12-1 Rose Bowl season wasn't half-bad, though. Happy tally: 2 of 5

2007: We're not sure curse evidence gets more compelling than SI putting Michigan's Mike Hart on one of its covers, then having the Wolverines lose to Appalachian State right out of the gate. But there's still USC losing to Stanford as a 41-point favorite, five-loss Arkansas finishing the season unranked (and with Houston Nutt fired), and Oklahoma laying a pair of colossal eggs against Colorado and West Virginia. In fact, it's only that Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners that keeps the Mountaineers -- themselves one stunning loss to Pitt away from the national title game -- out of the unhappy tally themselves. Happy tally: 1 of 5

2006:
No less than six regional covers this season. Among the good calls, LSU finished their season with a dominant Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame and Ohio State rolled to a national title game berth. But the Irish never looked like living up to their preseason No. 2 billing, both Texas and USC blew shots at the BCS championship with inexplicable late-season losses, and though 11-2 wasn't a bad year for West Virginia, a pivotal upset at USF and the Gator Bowl wasn't what they had in mind, either. Since we're nice people, though, we'll give WVU half-credit and USC half-credit after their Rose Bowl spanking of Michigan. Happy tally: 3 of 6

2005: The first year of the regional plan was the best one for SI, as Vince Young and Reggie Bush both lived up to that "unstoppable" tagline on their way to the BCS championship game. Florida's Chris Leak, though, not so much; the Gators limped to third in the SEC East in their first year under Urban Meyer. Happy tally: 2 of 3

FINAL VERDICT: Only 10 teams out of the 27 spotlighted by SI's regional covers went on to have satisfying seasons--meaning a whopping 63 percent finished their cover year disappointed. And it's even worse in recent seasons, since half the happy teams came in the first two years of the regional approach. Since then, the ratio of successful-to-unsuccessful campaigns is just 5-to-13. Only twice in these six years have one of those 27 teams -- 2005 Texas and 2008 Florida -- gone on to win the national title.

There's only one word to accurately sum up those kind of results: cursed. Cardinal? Gamecocks? Sooners? Huskers? Tide? Consider yourselves warned.


 
 
 
 
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