Stop if you’re heard this: Florida State and Notre Dame are back.
Though they’ve fooled us before, the Seminoles and Fighting Irish sure looked like potential title contenders as they emerged as the big winners in a busy slate of primetime games Saturday.
Florida State overwhelmed Clemson on both sides of the ball (and got a huge kickoff return) in the final quarter and a half to walk away with a convincing 49-37 win. Meanwhile, Notre Dame did just enough on offense to defeat Michigan 13-6, but more importantly, the Irish conquered their Denard Robinson problem.
And while the college football world in recent years has been premature to hype Florida State and Notre Dame, its been slow to buy into Kansas State. The Wildcats erased doubts that last season’s 10-win effort was a fluke by defeating Oklahoma 24-19 in Norman, avenging a 41-point blowout from last season.
THREE AND OUT: WEEK 4 RECAP
MOVING THE CHAINS
Florida State. The most convincing sign Florida State’s national title aspirations are for real came in the final 21 minutes or so against Clemson. The Tigers took a 10-point lead in the third quarter as the Tigers moved the ball at will, aided by two Florida State missed field goals. Instead of folding in an ACC game as has happened in the past, the Seminoles defense clamped down with four three-and-outs and an interception. Quarterback EJ Manuel masterfully led two touchdown drives to finish the day 27-of-35 for 380 yards with two touchdowns. Manuel also added 102 rushing yards to shatter a career high in total offense with 482 yards.
Notre Dame’s defense. Two Michigan teams. No touchdowns. A week after holding Michigan State to no offensive touchdowns, the Notre Dame defense did the same against Denard Robinson. The Michigan quarterback was nothing close the playmaker he had been the last two seasons against Notre Dame. Robinson threw four interceptions in the first half (running back Vincent Smith added a fifth pick in the first two quarters). Robinson accounted for only 228 yards of total offense -- just one more yard than he had against Alabama.
Connor Shaw, South Carolina. After missing the Sept. 8 game against East Carolina and leaving early last week against UAB, the Gamecocks quarterback proved all is well with his ailing throwing shoulder. Shaw missed his first pass and didn’t slip up after that, completing 20 consecutive attempts to finish the game. Shaw passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns, but Steve Spurrier figured out Marcus Lattimore should be the one getting the ball at the goal line. After Shaw failed to run the ball into the end zone on third and fourth down from the 1, Spurrier called Lattimore’s number in the next two plays from the goal line.
Oklahoma. The Sooners have looked nothing like a national title contender in a too-close-for-comfort win over UTEP in the opener and then in a 24-19 loss to Kansas State at home. Now, Oklahoma should wonder if its even a Big 12 title contender. Turnovers at both goal lines doomed the Sooners in the loss, first on a Landry Jones fumble at his own 1-yard line then a Blake Bell fumble on the Wildcats’ goal line in the second quarter. After falling behind in the third quarter, Kansas State responded with two methodical drives in the second half to seal the win.
Arizona’s offense. Not that it was a total shock, but Arizona is not ready to contend in the Pac-12 in the first season under coach Rich Rodriguez. The same team that accounted for at least 500 yards in all three games this season and more than 600 yards in two of those, was shutout by Oregon in a 49-0 loss. Arizona kept it close with a 13-0 halftime score, but like so many Oregon games go, the Ducks overwhelmed the Wildcats in the second half. Arizona threw four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, and the Wildcats rushed for only 89 yards on 32 carries. For Oregon, the four picks were an encouraging sign for a defense playing without star safety John Boyett.
Primetime overload. The drift of college football out of the afternoon and early evening hit critical mass with all of the week’s best games kicking off after 7 p.m. Eastern. All four games between ranked teams (Clemson-Florida State, Kansas State-Oklahoma, Michigan-Notre Dame and Arizona-Oregon) were in late time slots not to mention three more games involving ranked teams (LSU, Georgia, USC). The most nationally relevant games before primetime included Oregon State-UCLA and Missouri-South Carolina. Even ESPN College Game Day host Chris Fowler weighed in:
Collin Klein, Kansas State. The Wildcats quarterback turned in a vintage performance, completing 13 of 21 passes for 149 yards while rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown. One of the key plays was a 13-yard pass on third-and-11 late in the fourth quarter to prevent Oklahoma from getting the ball back. Running back John Hubert had his own moments with 23 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA. In playing only two games, Oregon State has derailed two running backs’ Heisman bids. After limiting Wisconsin’s Montee Ball to 61 yards on 15 carries, the Beavers held Franklin to 45 yards on 12 carries in a 27-20 win. The nation’s leading rusher through the first three weeks didn’t have a run longer than 13 yards, and that didn’t happen in the final minute of the third quarter.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame. The top defensive player on a team that stifled Michigan State a week ago was even better against Michigan. Te’o, who didn’t have an interception in his career before this season, picked off two passes against Michigan and finished with eight tackles against the Wolverines. Te’o helped keep Michigan in check as the Wolverines averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Rex Burkhead returns. While other Big Ten teams were struggling with MAC programs, Nebraska made easy work of Idaho State. The most important development, though, was the return of running back Rex Burkhead, who missed the last two games with a sprained knee. Against Idaho State, Burkhead needed only eight carries to rush for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada. The Wolf Pack running back scored seven touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving) in a 69-24 win over Hawaii to tie an FBS record for touchdowns against a major-college opponent. Jefferson’s seven touchdowns matched Ole Miss’ Arnold “Showboat” Boykin against Mississippi State in 1951, San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk against Pacific in 1991 and Oklahoma State’s Rashaun Woods against SMU in 2003.
Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs’ bid at being the top team outside of the BCS automatic-qualifying conferences got a major boost with a 52-24 win over Illinois on Saturday. Despite a brief return by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois turned the ball over six times in a Louisiana Tech rout. Louisiana Tech, Ohio and Texas-San Antonio are the only non-Big Six teams without a loss.
THREE SCORES THAT MAKE YOU GO ‘HUH?’
THREE ROAD WINS BY RUTGERS
192:55. Alabama’s bid for three consecutive shutouts ended with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter against FAU when Owls tight end Alex Deleon caught a 6-yard touchdown pass. The scoreless streak lasted nearly 13 quarters (192 minutes, 55 seconds).
4. On Saturday, MAC teams defeated four opponents from the six power conferences: Western Michigan defeated Connecticut 30-24, Ball State defeated USF 31-27, Northern Illinois defeated Kansas 30-23, and Central Michigan defeated Iowa 32-31. In a single day, the MAC topped its win total against the six major conferences (three) from each of the last three seasons. With Ball State defeating Indiana and Ohio defeating Penn State already this season, the MAC has its most wins over the Big Six conferences since 2008.
24. New Mexico ended its 24-game road losing streak, the longest such streak in the nation, with a 27-14 win over New Mexico State. At 2-1, first-year coach Bob Davie matched his predecessor’s win total before the end of September. Previous New Mexico coach Mike Locksley went 2-26 before he was fired midway through his third season.
THREE STAR RECEIVERS
Tavon Austin, West Virginia. Overcoming the Heisman buzz around Geno Smith may be impossible, but Austin put on a show against Maryland. He had little trouble getting open with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. No one else for West Virginia had more than six receptions. Smith, meanwhile, was as sharp as the Mountaineers have come to expect, yet he still passed for 338 yards with three touchdowns. After throwing nine incomplete passes in the first two games, he was 30 of 43 against the Terps.
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas. A record day from Arkansas’ top receiver probably won’t console the Razorbacks from their three consecutive losses, but it was a record day nonetheless. Hamilton set a school and SEC record with 303 receiving yards in the loss to Rutgers, breaking the conference record belonging to LSU receiver Josh Reed in 2001. Hamilton is the only the second 300-yard receiver since 2007.
Ace Sanders, South Carolina. The South Carolina receiver had only one catch against Missouri -- though it was a 23-yard touchdown by his fingertips. But Sanders may have had the highlight of the day with his punt return for a touchdown against the Tigers where he bumped into two of his own blockers and then a Missouri player draped over him.
THREE QUARTERBACKS WHO DUG DEEP
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame. For the second time this season, Brian Kelly yanked Everett Golson for maligned former starting quarterback Tommy Rees. The junior again answered the call by limiting mistakes. After Golson threw two first-half interceptions, Rees went 8-of-11 for 115 yards, including a 38-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert on third-and-4 in the fourth quarter to ensure Michigan wouldn’t get the ball back in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Stephen Morris, Miami. The Hurricanes may have found a key moment on which to build, partly on the arm of Stephen Morris. After sprinting to a 19-0 lead on Georgia Tech, Miami allowed 36 consecutive points. Miami bounced back with 23 unanswered points, capped with a 25-yard touchdown run from Mike James to win 42-36 in overtime. Miami’s offense wasn’t solely dependent on freshman Duke Johnson thanks to career days from Morris and James (113 yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns). Morris’ 436 passing yards was the fifth-most in school history.
Jordan Webb, Colorado. A week after Colorado appeared to take its place among the worst major conference teams of the BCS era, the Buffaloes showed resolve by scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat Washington State 35-34 after trailing by 17. Jordan Webb rushed for a 4-yard score on fourth down to seal the win. Webb finished 29 of 52 for 345 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, plus the game-winning touchdown run.
THREE SIGNS THE BIG TEN IS IN TROUBLE
DANG, THEY’RE GOOD
DANG, THEY’RE BAD
BEST GAMES NEXT WEEK
The Big Ten out of the title race. Michigan earned preseason top-10 rankings this season thanks to wins in their final four games in 2011, including Ohio State, Nebraska and Virginia Tech. The hype was short-lived as Michigan fell out of the national title picture before the end of September. If not for the weakness of the rest of the Big Ten, Michigan’s BCS hopes would be in doubt, too. Coupled with Michigan State's loss to Notre Dame a week ago and Nebraska's loss to UCLA earlier this month, the Big Ten is likely out of the BCS title race. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only undefeated teams in the conference.
Ohio State struggles at home. Though Ohio State has yet to lose, the Buckeyes haven’t looked like the Big Ten’s best the last two weeks, even taking into account the postseason ban. A week after Cal kept pace in a 35-28 Ohio State win, the Buckeyes played a close game with UAB for most of the day Saturday. Ohio State led 21-15 in the fourth quarter before taking control on a Braxton Miller touchdown run.
The middle of the Big Ten can’t keep up with the MAC and WAC. With a loss to MAC also-ran Central Michigan, Iowa hasn’t won consecutive games in nearly a year. Later in the day, Michigan State spent a little too much time letting Eastern Michigan hang around before the Spartans won 23-7. And Illinois never had a chance in a 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, the league’s best performances this week came against Big East non-contenders with Minnesota defeating Syracuse and Penn State defeating Temple.
By David Fox