South Carolina, Auburn and Oregon were the big winners from Saturday's action.
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the five most important things to take away from this weekend.
1. Auburn punches ticket to Atlanta – A week of off-the-field distractions didn’t slow quarterback Cam Newton, and Auburn is headed back to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2004. Despite facing allegations about his eligibility, Newton turned in another terrific performance. The junior completed 12 of 15 passes for 148 yards and two scores, while adding 151 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Despite falling behind 21-7, there was little panic on the Auburn sideline. Newton once again took the offense on his back, firing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen to tie the game at 21 going into halftime. Georgia managed to tie the game at 28 midway through the third quarter, but it was all Auburn the rest of the way. The Tigers leaky pass defense showed up once again, allowing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray to throw for 273 yards and three scores. However, the Bulldogs didn’t get much going on the ground, managing 81 yards on 24 attempts.
Although the SEC West title was clinched with this victory, Auburn still has one game remaining against Alabama on November 26. If the Tigers lose to their rival in the Iron Bowl, their national championship hopes could be gone. Winning the SEC West is certainly a big deal for Auburn, but plenty of work remains for the Tigers and likely more talk about Newton’s status.
2. South Carolina wins SEC East – For the first time in conference history, someone other than Florida, Georgia or Tennessee will represent the East in the SEC title game. Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore carried South Carolina to Atlanta, posting 40 carries for 212 yards and three touchdowns. While Lattimore was gashing the Florida defense, the Gators had no answers on offense. The three quarterback rotation of John Brantley, Jordan Reed and Trey Burton managed only 191 yards of offense. Outside of Andre Debose’s kickoff return for a score to open the game, the Gators were silent. The win in Gainesville was the first for South Carolina and only the second win in 19 games against the Gators. Perhaps the happiest man in the building was South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, winning at his alma mater and lifting the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title.
The 36-14 defeat to South Carolina was Florida’s third at home this season. Although the offense showed signs of life against Georgia and Vanderbilt, it was stuck in neutral Saturday night. The Gators take on Appalachian State next week, followed by rival Florida State in the season finale. A 7-5 record and a middle of the pack bowl will no doubt prompt changes from head coach Urban Meyer. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is on the hot seat, and the Gators need to decide which direction they are going to go on offense. Will they become more of a traditional offense to fit Brantley’s skills or is it time to let Burton/Reed take control of the spread?
3. Oregon survives in Berkeley – Even though California was a different team at home than on the road and the Golden Bears had won three out of the last four in this series, not many expected this matchup to be close. After all, the Golden Bears had a quarterback making his second start and although the defense had played well this year, slowing down Oregon’s offense was thought to be too much. However, California managed to slow Oregon’s high-powered attack, holding it 15 points – easily the lowest output from 2010. Despite turning in the best defensive effort of the year against the Ducks, the Golden Bears couldn’t generate enough offense and fell short in their upset bid. Oregon running back LaMichael James mustered only 91 yards, while battling an ankle injury and was held without a score for the first time this year. Although the Ducks possess arguably the nation’s best offense, the defense and special teams shouldn’t be overlooked. California managed only 193 yards of total offense, while Cliff Harris returned a punt 64 yards for a score, giving Oregon an 8-7 lead in the first half.
Although this wasn’t a flashy performance, the Ducks remain in good shape to play for the national title. The bye this week will help to get James healthy and give the Ducks two weeks to prepare for Arizona. If the Ducks knock off Arizona, only rival Oregon State will remain for an undefeated season and a trip to the national championship. Every national title contender has to survive a close call or defeat – Alabama last year against Tennessee and LSU and Florida losing to Ole Miss in 2008 immediately come to mind. Whether it’s scoring 50 points or winning a 15-13 slugfest, Oregon just needs to win.
4. TCU dodges upset bid – Combine a much-improved San Diego State team, with a letdown after a big win at Utah and the Horned Frogs nearly watched their season fall apart. The Horned Frogs quickly fell behind 14-0, but scored 34 unanswered points to take a 34-14 lead into halftime. With a big lead and one of the nation’s best defenses, this one looked to be over. However, with under five minutes to go, the Aztecs scored on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Lindley to Vincent Brown, which cut TCU’s lead to 40-35. The Aztecs were unable to stop TCU on the next series, which allowed the Horned Frogs to run out the clock and finish with a 40-35 victory. The Aztecs posted 300 total yards of offense, the second-most on TCU this season. SMU totaled 361 in a 41-24 loss earlier this year. Although TCU found a way to win, the close call prompted voters in both polls (Associated Press and USA Today) to move Boise State ahead of the Horned Frogs. Even more damaging for TCU was Utah’s loss at Notre Dame, which no doubt hurts the perception of last week’s win in Salt Lake City. Boise State has three remaining games – Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State – while TCU has a bye before facing New Mexico. Considering Auburn still has to play Alabama and South Carolina, the battle between TCU and Boise State is key, especially with a potential spot in the national championship on the line.
5. Big Ten race shaping up – Going into Week 11, four teams were tied atop the Big Ten with one conference loss. Thanks to a Northwestern upset over Iowa, the race to win the conference crown has been trimmed by a team. Wisconsin moved to 9-1 with a dominating 83-20 win over Indiana, while Ohio State used a second-half rally to knock off Penn State 38-14. Michigan State had the week off and potentially has the easiest road to an 11-1 record from the trio tied atop the standings, with games against Purdue and Penn State remaining. Ohio State’s biggest hurdle is this Saturday at Iowa. The Hawkeyes nearly upset the Buckeyes last year in Columbus, but since beating Michigan State 37-6, struggled to beat Indiana and lost to Northwestern 21-17. The Badgers have a tricky road game against Michigan this Saturday. Wisconsin’s last win in Ann Arbor came in 1994 and even though the Wolverines are struggling on defense, this won’t be an easy out for the Badgers. The BCS standings will be used as a tiebreaker if all three teams finished tied atop the Big Ten, and Wisconsin currently holds the edge over Ohio State and Michigan State.
Other thoughts from Week 11
No one was really surprised when Oregon State began the year 1-2. The Beavers are traditionally slow starters under coach Mike Riley, but this team is in serious jeopardy of missing a bowl game. Oregon State was upset 31-14 by Washington State, giving the Cougars their first Pac-10 win since November 22, 2008. Although the Cougars may finish the year with two wins, head coach Paul Wulff has shown enough progress to earn another year in Pullman.
One week after a historic collapse against Kansas, Colorado defeated Iowa State 34-14 under interim coach Brian Cabral. The Buffaloes still have a shot at bowl eligibility and Cabral could make his case for the fulltime job if he can get Colorado to six wins.
Texas A&M is 3-0 since making the switch to Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback. The Aggies have solid wins over Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Baylor, but close the year with Nebraska and Texas. The Aggies still have a shot at the Big 12 South title and the last three games should be enough to cool the seat under coach Mike Sherman.
The mess that is known as the Big East got even worse this week. Pittsburgh suffered its first conference loss of the year on Thursday against Connecticut, but remained in first place. South Florida, Syracuse and West Virginia earned bowl eligibility with its wins on Saturday, while Cincinnati and Rutgers look like longshots to make an appearance in the postseason. The Panthers are still the favorites, but close the year with games at South Florida and Cincinnati, along with a home date against rival West Virginia. With the way this season has gone in the Big East, it would be a major shock if the Panthers went 3-0 in their remaining games.
Army’s 45-28 victory over Kent State gives the Black Knights six wins and likely clinched a bowl appearance. The last bowl game for Army was in 1996, losing 32-29 to Auburn in the Independence Bowl. Head coach Rich Ellerson was a terrific hire for this school and should have the Black Knights a consistent contender for a bowl game during his tenure at West Point.
How about giving some credit to USC coach Lane Kiffin? The Trojans are 7-3, with two of the losses coming in the final minute and a defeat to No. 1 Oregon. USC’s depth has been tested and according to Kiffin, the Trojans used only 41 scholarship players against Oregon. The sanctions will be tough to navigate in the future, but the Trojans should finish this year 9-3.
After Indiana’s dismal performance on Saturday, the seat under coach Bill Lynch got a little warmer. Losing is one thing, but giving up 83 points is an embarrassment to the program. The Hoosiers will have several key losses on offense next year, which means 2011 is a rebuilding year no matter who the head coach.
Brian Kelly has been facing a lot of heat in his first year at Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish pulled off a 28-3 upset over Utah on Saturday and are back in position to get to a bowl. Kelly didn’t ask much of freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, instead leaning on the rushing attack and defense to win this game. Notre Dame made the right hire with Kelly and although it may take a year to put his stamp on the program, the Irish will be back in the BCS.
Both ACC divisions remain unsettled, but the picture is starting to clear. Virginia Tech controls its destiny in the Coastal. With a win over Miami or Virginia, the Hokies will win the Coastal for the fourth time in six seasons. Florida State’s win over Clemson kept a three-way tie atop the Atlantic. This Saturday should provide some clarity for the Atlantic, with Florida State taking on Maryland.
Since firing head coach Todd Dodge, North Texas has a 2-1 record with a close 41-35 loss to Troy. Interim coach Mike Canales is certainly earning himself a look as the fulltime coach if the Mean Green perform well over the final two weeks.
How about an under-the-radar performer? Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse has posted back-to-back 200-yard games. Rouse rushed for 286 yards and one score against Louisiana Tech and added 217 yards and two touchdowns against Nevada.
There are two interesting matchups on the schedule for Week 12 and it’s not due to the actual teams on the field. Although Northwestern-Illinois and Notre Dame-Army should be close games, these two matchups are interesting because of where they are played – in Major League Baseball stadiums. Northwestern-Illinois will meet in Wrigley Field in Chicago, while Notre Dame-Army tangles in New Yankee Stadium in New York.
After beginning the season 2-5, BYU has quietly reeled off three wins in a row to move to 5-5. Although the wins were nothing impressive – UNLV, Wyoming and Colorado State – the Cougars should beat New Mexico to earn victory No. 6 this weekend. Freshman quarterback Jake Heaps is getting better every week, which should give BYU something to build on going into next season.
Looking ahead to Week 12
A small sample of what’s ahead
UCLA vs. Washington (Thursday)
Not a marquee Thursday night game, but winner takes a step to bowl eligibility.
Fresno State vs. Boise State (Friday)
Broncos need to be impressive in Friday showcase to jump TCU in BCS standings.
NC State vs. North Carolina
Wolfpack looking for its fourth win in a row over Tar Heels.
Connecticut vs. Syracuse
Huskies have momentum and Orange have lost last two games at home.
Florida State vs. Maryland
Big game in battle for ACC Atlantic title, and Terrapins have won two out of last three meetings in College Park.
Virginia Tech vs. Miami, Fla.
Hokies can clinch a spot in ACC title game with a win at Miami.
West Virginia vs. Louisville
Much-improved Cardinals will be a tough out for Mountaineers.
Pittsburgh vs. South Florida
Panthers still the favorites in the Big East, but can’t afford another loss.
Wisconsin vs. Michigan
Can the Michigan defense find a way to slow down Wisconsin’s rushing attack?
Arkansas vs. Mississippi State
Razorbacks have dominated this series, winning nine out of the last ten meetings.
Ohio State vs. Iowa
Buckeyes need win to keep BCS bowl and Big Ten title hopes alive.
Oklahoma vs. Baylor
Will Oklahoma’s struggles on the road continue?
Nebraska vs. Texas A&M
Cornhuskers can clinch Big 12 North with victory and they’ve won their last two games in College Station.
Stanford vs. California
Cardinal need a win to keep BCS bowl hopes alive, but have lost last four trips to Berkeley.
USC vs. Oregon State
The state of Oregon has been a difficult place for USC, but Beavers coming off awful loss to Washington State.
Taking a look at some of the key players suffering injuries this weekend.
Alabama OG Barrett Jones (sprained ankle) – doubtful to play in Week 12
Arkansas TE D.J. Williams (shoulder) – probable to play in Week 12
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis (shoulder) – probable to play in Week 12
Florida State RB Jermaine Thomas (knee) – questionable to play in Week 12
Georgia QB Aaron Murray (knee) – probable to play in Week 13
Indiana QB Ben Chappell (hip) – questionable to play in Week 12
Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud (knee) – out for remainder of season
Northwestern QB Dan Persa (ruptured Achilles) – out for remainder of season
Oklahoma DT Adrian Taylor (ruptured Achilles) – out for remainder of season
Ole Miss DT Lawon Scott (broken ankle) – out for remainder of season
Oregon RB LaMichael James (leg) – probable to play in Week 13
Penn State RB Evan Royster (leg) – probable for Week 12
Penn State LB Michael Mauti (shoulder) – questionable to play in Week 12
TCU RB Ed Wesley (foot) – probable to play in Week 13
Tennessee S Janzen Jackson (ankle) – probable to play in Week 12
UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe (ankle) – questionable to play in Week 12
Virginia RB Keith Payne (leg) – questionable to play in Week 12