With the exception of Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame and teams not playing Colorado, it was a rough week to be undefeated.
Saturday began with 11 remaining undefeated teams and ended with six as Florida, Oregon State, Mississippi State, Rutgers and Ohio all lost. Only the Bulldogs loss to dominant Alabama did not come as an upset.
For now, the race for the national title is unclear with Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame in contention for the BCS championship game. Having four or more undefeated teams at this stage of the season isn’t uncommon, and although this title race tends to shake itself out, that won’t stop the speculation of who would play who if the status quo remains.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 9 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
MOVING THE CHAINS
Notre Dame’s bold play call. Moments after Oklahoma tied Notre Dame at 13 in the fourth quarter with the first rushing touchdown all season against the Irish, Brian Kelly wasn’t willing to play it safe, even with his untested quarterback. On second and 2 from his own 35, Kelly called for a play-action deep pass, which Everett Golson completed for a 50-yard gain into the Oklahoma red zone. The play sapped OU momentum, quieted the crowd in Norman and set up up the go-ahead touchdown. In other words, it’s the kind of play that further cemented Notre Dame’s title-contending status. Golson, meanwhile, looks like the quarterback who can deliver in such spots. He finished 13 of 25 for 177 yards and rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown in the 30-13 win.
Georgia’s SEC hopes. Losing 35-7 to South Carolina, struggling with Kentucky and getting into a shootout with Tennessee isn’t exactly the best way to the SEC championship game, but that’s the route Georgia is taking. If the Bulldogs defeat Ole Miss and Auburn the next two weeks, they’ll seal a trip to the SEC title game. A potential trip to the SEC championship game was put in motion thanks to an unorthodox 17-9 win over Florida in which the Bulldogs committed 14 penalties for 135 yards and got three interceptions out of veteran quarterback Aaron Murray. The reason Georgia is in the driver’s seat? Jarvis Jones.
Kansas State’s dominance. The dream season isn’t ending in Manhattan, Kan. Even after a slow start this week, Kansas State found the cracks in the Texas Tech defense and still found time to play its backups in a 55-24 win. Collin Klein started 4 of 7 for 20 yards and lost five yards on three rushing attempts, but finished as he always does -- passing for 233 yards, running for 83 and accounting for four touchdowns.
Florida’s “violators.” In the 44-11 win over South Carolina, Florida’s defenders kept their eyes out for “violators” -- offensive players who didn’t hold the ball high and tight, players who left themselves susceptible to turnovers. Florida had its own laundry list of violators against Georgia. The Gators turned the ball over six times from three players: Jeff Driskel (two interceptions, two fumbles) and Trey Burton and Jordan Reed (one fumble each). The last fumble by Reed was the most costly. As the Gators’ tight end was driving into the Georgia five-yard line, Jarvis Jones took advantage of Reed’s “violator” status to end the Gators’ bid for a potential game-tying touchdown and two point conversion.
Gary Nova. Rutgers’ formula to remain undefeated wasn’t groundbreaking: Play great defense and avoid turnovers. That came crashing down against Kent State, the second MAC team in two weeks to hand a Big East team its first loss of the season. Rutgers entered the game with a plus-14 turnover margin, but finished minus-5 against the Golden Flashes as quarterback Gary Nova threw six interceptions. Meanwhile, the same team that hadn’t allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards for the first six games surrendered 224 rushing yards to Kent State. Rutgers’ chances to win the Big East haven’t been harmed, but the luster is gone on a standout season.
Ohio’s BCS bid. The undefeated Bobcats have been flirting with disaster since their season-opening win over Penn State. Where Florida and Rutgers saw their undefeated seasons evaporate due to turnovers, Ohio had a different kind of gaffe against Miami (Ohio). Trailing by a field goal, Frank Solich elected to go for the win when the Bobcats took over on first and goal at the 7. Only one problem: Quarterback Tyler Tettleton lost track of timeouts. Believing he still had one timeout remaining, Tettleton took a sack on the game’s final play as time expired as Ohio’s undefeated season and longshot BCS bid ended in a 23-20 loss.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame. A case of being at the right place at the right time in the fourth quarter may have sealed Te’o’s trip to New York. With fellow Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox draped over Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders, Landry Jones’ pass deflected into the air into the hands of a diving Te’o for the Sooners’ only turnover of the day. Te’o added 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss. If it’s a foregone conclusion Te’o will be a Heisman finalist, the next question is if he can beat out Ndamukong Suh’s fourth place finish in 2009, the best finish for a defensive player since Charles Woodson won the award in 1997.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama. Eventually, McCarron is going to escape the game manager tag. In the 38-7 win over Mississippi State, McCarron was 16 of 23 for 208 yards with two touchdowns. In a matchup with ballhawking cornerback Johnthan Banks, McCarron still avoided throwing his first interception of the season. Game manager? The perfect 57-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell said otherwise.
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina. Bernard rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns and caught eight passes for 95 yards against NC State, yet it wasn’t the most impressive part of his day. Bernard ran back a punt for a 73-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to give the Tar Heels a 43-35 win. The TD capped an 18-point fourth quarter and gave North Carolina its first win over NC State since 2006. Bernard has rushed for at least 130 yards in four consecutive games and has accounted for 15 touchdowns in seven games this season.
345. USC’s Marqise Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards for a Pac-12 record, but the Trojans still lost 39-36 to Arizona. Lee, who also had two touchdown catches, became the fourth receiver to have 300 yards in a game this season. The others were Arkansas’s Cobi Hamilton, Baylor’s Terrance Williams and West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey.
617. Yes, Auburn can reach new lows this season. The 1-7 Tigers surrendered more yards than in any game in school history with 671 yards allowed to Texas A&M. In the 63-21 loss, the Tigers fell five points short of the most allowed in program history, in a 68-7 loss to Georgia Tech in 1917.
20-3. A sneaky good first season for Rich Rodriguez earned a signature win with the 39-36 upset of USC. The Wildcats are 5-3, but their losses have come against teams with a combined 20-3 record: Oregon (8-0), Oregon State (6-1) and Stanford (6-2). Against USC, Arizona produced two 100-yard rushers (Ka’Deem Carey and Matt Scott), a 300-yard passer (Scott) and a 250-yard receiver (Austin Hill).
SCORES THAT MAKE YOU GO ‘HUH?’
DIFFERENT WEEK, SAME SCRIPT
RIDICULOUS FIRST-HALF SCORES
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Sean Mannion’s ill-fated return. Granted, the No. 7 team on upset alert shouldn’t be overlooked, but a late-night game on Pac-12 Networks with all the other developments of the day seemed to obscure Oregon State’s first loss of the season. Nevertheless, the Beavers followed fellow undefeateds Florida and Rutgers in losing their perfect record on turnovers. Quarterback Sean Mannion returned to face Washington after missing two games with a knee injury, but the return may have been rushed. Mannion threw four interceptions before he was replaced by backup Cody Vaz in the 20-17 loss.
The MAC’s banner year Even in a week in which its last undefeated team and only BCS threat (Ohio) lost, this week signaled a banner season for the MAC. With a win over Rutgers, Kent State was the second MAC team to hand a Big East team its first loss of the season in two weeks, joining Toledo’s upset of Cincinnati. The league has four one-loss teams -- Kent State, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ohio -- each with a wins over Big Six conference teams. The MAC is 4-4 against the Big East and 3-9 against the Big Ten.
Air Force. The Falcons rushed for 461 yards Friday in a 48-31 win over Nevada, putting Air Force at 4-1 in the Mountain West. Despite returning only six returning starters, Troy Calhoun’s team is right in the thick of the Mountain West race with Boise State (4-0), San Diego State and Fresno State (4-1 each). Air Force does not play Boise State this season, but faces the Aztecs and Bulldogs on the road. A MWC title will be tough, but a bowl game -- which looks probable at this point -- would mark a great coaching job by Calhoun.
THREE REASONS LATTIMORE’S INJURY MADE A NATIONAL IMPACT
The second major injury may be the worst. Lattimore’s reaction -- his look of panic on the filed and his sobbing into a towel as he was carting off the field -- told the story. The details of the damage to his right knee/leg weren’t released Saturday night, but the gruesome nature of it seems to season-ending at best, career-ending at worst. After his freshman season of 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns, a run at the Heisman and a likely NFL first-round draft pick seemed to be his future before a torn ACL as a sophomore. His second major injury in two years puts a promising career in question.
Tennessee’s response. After the injury, South Carolina’s players circled in support, as usually happens in a serious injury situation. Tennessee’s players joined South Carolina on the field around Lattimore -- a clear demonstration of sportsmanship in a divisive SEC.
Lattimore carries nationwide admiration. Beyond Tennessee on the field, coaches and Lattimore’s peers chimed in for support at a level rare, even when an elite player suffers a major injury. LSU coach Les Miles and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III chimed in on Twitter. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told ESPN after the game: “He’s such a wonderful man. Good things will happen for Marcus Lattimore. I don’t know what field of life, but he’s a wonderful guy.” ESPN’s Travis Haney explained why, in part, Lattimore’s injury struck a chord:
THREE ELITE PLAYMAKERS TO WELCOME BACK
Jarvis Jones, Georgia. Injuries cost Jones two games this season. otherwise, he might be a Heisman contender. Jones turned in one of the best performances in the history of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 17-9 win over Florida. The biggest play may have been a strip and fumble recovery against Florida tight end Jordan Reed as the Gators were poised for a fourth quarter touchdown. Elsewhere for Georgia, safety Bacarri Rambo, who had been suspended earlier in the season, had an interception and a sack.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson. Remember when the freshman Watkins was one of the stories of the season during an 8-0 start? That seemed like ages ago as Watkins has been out of sorts to start the season, missing three games with a suspension and later an illness. Watkins returned to his 2011 form with eight catches for 202 yards with three plays longer than 50 yards against Wake Forest on Thursday. He doubled his season receiving output in just one game.
De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon. Thomas has had a quiet season, but facing Colorado cured that in in a hurry. His 22 yards per touch was his best against an FBS team all season. With a game against USC coming up next week, this is a good time for Thomas to heat up. Thomas rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns, but the highlight was this acrobatic 73-yard punt return for a touchdown.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED IN THE BIG TEN
Ohio State can win with defense. No postseason implications were at stake when Ohio State defeated Penn State 35-23, but there were key developments nonetheless. Penn State’s Matt McGloin passed for 327 yards against a vulnerable Ohio State secondary, but the Buckeyes succeeded in making the game one-dimensional by holding the Nittany Lions to 32 rushing yards.
Wisconsin can’t win without Joel Stave. The Badgers quarterback was an afterthought to start the season with the arrival of Danny O’Brien, but he may be the key to the Badgers offense. Wisconsin struggled to move the ball in the second half after Stave suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter as Wisconsin lost 16-13 in overtime to Michigan State. O’Brien was 5 of 11 for 44 yards in relief of Stave.
Denard Robinson’s even more important than you think. He’s a dazzling playmaker, but inconsistent and not a great fit for what Brady Hoke wants to do. But without Robinson, Michigan’s just bad right now. Robinson left with an elbow injury in the second quarter, and redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy didn’t distinguish himself. Bellomy started 0 for 11 and threw three interceptions in the 23-9 loss to Nebraska.
THREE BIG 12 REDEMPTION STORIES
Case McCoy, Texas What did McCoy’s comeback mean for Texas? Did he save Mack Brown’s job? Did he regain the starting quarterback job? Or did he just save Texas from embarrassment? The latter he certainly did when he relieved starting quarterback David Ash in the fourth quarter with Texas struggling to beat Kansas. McCoy was 5 of 7 for 68 yards with a critical fourth-down pass and a touchdown on the game-winning drive. McCoy and Ash traded the starting job last season, but McCoy hadn’t played in a contested game until he entered the 21-17 win over Kansas. Unless Texas has someone on the bench who can play a little defense, the Longhorns may continue to struggle.
Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State. The freshman was named starting quarterback in spring practice, but his coronation was short-lived as he was injured in the third game of the season. J.W. Walsh played admirably with Lunt out, but Walsh was lost to a season-ending injury last week to force Lunt back into duty. After Oklahoma State spotted TCU at two-touchdown lead, Lunt finished 18 of 33 for 324 yards with a touchdown for eight unanswered scoring drives (including five Quinn Sharp field goals) in the 36-14 win.
Steele Jantz, Iowa State Benched for the last three games, Jantz returned against Baylor with new life. Perhaps aided by the porous Baylor defense, Jantz was 36 for 52 for 381 yards with five touchdowns and two turnovers in a 35-21 win. Iowa State needs only one more win for bowl eligibility, which makes the final part of the schedule (Oklahoma, at Texas, at Kansas, West Virginia) much more manageable.
DANG, THEY’RE GOOD
DANG THEY’RE BAD
BEST GAMES NEXT WEEK
THREE STREAKS ENDED
Indiana’s Big Ten losing streak. The Hoosiers gave Ohio State and Michigan State fits earlier this season, but they finally found a willing participant to help end their 11-game losing streak. With backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld playing the final three quarters, Indiana defeated Illinois 31-17 for the program’s first Big Ten win since defeating Purdue 34-31 to end the 2010 season. Indiana may have a chance to win consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 2007 when it faces struggling Iowa in Bloomington next week.
Pittsburgh wins two in a row vs. FBS teams. With a 47-17 win over Temple, Pittsburgh picked up its first back-to-back wins over FBS teams since the final two games of 2010. That was six coaches ago, including Dave Wannstedt, Todd Graham and current coach Paul Chryst, plus two interim coaches (Phil Bennett and Keith Patterson), the short-lived tenure of Mike Haywood. The last Pitt coach to win back-to-back Big East games was Wannstedt in October 2010. Fellow Big East-to-ACC team Syracuse also won its first consecutive Big East games since October 2010 with consecutive wins over Connecticut as USF.
Ole Miss wins an SEC game ... again. A week after ending a 16-game SEC losing streak, Ole Miss defeated Arkansas 30-27 on a 31-yard field goal as time expired for its first back-to-back conference wins since defeating Tennessee on Nov. 17, 2009 and LSU on Nov. 21, 2009. By winning in Little Rock, Ole Miss picked up an SEC road win for the first time since defeating Vanderbilt 23-7 on Oct. 3, 2009. First-year coach Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss one win a way from bowl eligibility.
By David Fox