To no one's surprise, both #1 USC and #2 Oklahoma won their final games on Saturday and will face off in the Orange Bowl on January 4th for the BCS version of the National Championship. Despite their victory over Tennessee in the SEC Championship game, undefeated Auburn remained at #3 and will meet ACC champ Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on January 3rd. Unlike last season when USC captured a share of the National Championship by winning in the polls despite not playing for the BCS title, it is very unlikely Auburn could do so this time. The main reason the Tigers have virtually no shot at even a split title, despite an undefeated season in the tough SEC, is that their pre-season ranking was too low. While the various polls all had USC and Oklahoma near the top right from the start, Auburn had to gradually move up from their starting spot in the upper teens. Clearly, this is not only unfair, but inane. A simple and logical solution is to eliminate all polls until at least the beginning of October. Of course, this is so simple and logical that it will never happen. As I've written many times in the past, the only real solution is a playoff system similar to that which exists in Divisions 1-AA, 2, and 3. Don't hold your breath on that idea either!
Another travesty in the BCS Bowl process was Texas moving past California to receive an invitation to play Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Going into Saturday's action, the Golden Bears were ranked 4th in the BCS, slightly ahead of Texas. The Longhorns had completed their season on November 26th with a win over Texas A&M. California had to travel to Hattiesburg last Saturday to play Southern Mississippi in a game that was rescheduled from September 18th due to a hurricane. While not overly impressive, the Golden Bears did defeat Southern Mississippi 26-16. Cal had a chance to score again in the final minute, but head coach Jeff Tedford did the classy thing and let the clock run out. Longhorns' head coach Mack Brown spent last week wailing about how unfair it would be for Texas to be excluded from the BCS. Apparently enough voters were swayed, since the Longhorns edged past California into 4th place in the BCS Standings even though the Golden Bears remained slightly ahead of the Longhorns in both the A.P. and Coaches' Polls. It was reported that six coaches moved California down on their ballots after this weekend. In the previous Coaches' Poll, California was no worse than 6th on any ballot. In the final voting, four coaches dropped the Golden Bears down to 7th place and two all the way to 8th. Would California be headed to the Rose Bowl instead of the Holiday Bowl if Tedford's offense managed to score a meaningless last-minute TD on Saturday? I guess we'll never know, but it's certainly possible.
The final BCS Bowl features undefeated Mountain West champion Utah facing Big East winner Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. The Utes will become the first team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS Bowl game. Some critics are still upset that the Panthers are playing in a BCS Bowl over higher rated schools such as California, Boise State, and Louisville. To that, I'd respond if these armchair experts have a better solution to the BCS mess, let us know BEFORE the season begins. It's so very easy to second-guess after the fact!
Several more coaching vacancies were created in the past week. Gone are Gary Crowton at BYU, Gerry DiNardo at Indiana, David Cutcliffe at Mississippi, and Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame. Cutcliffe's dismissal was surprising, considering the Rebels were 9-3 last season. They fell to 4-7 this year, as none of their QBs came close to imitating Eli Manning. Willingham was given the pink slip after coaching the Irish to a 21-15 record in his three years in South Bend. He had two years remaining on his contract. Notre Dame appeared certain to lure Urban Meyer from Utah, but Meyer shocked the folks under the Golden Dome by deciding to take the Florida job instead. Maybe this will be the wake up call long needed by Notre Dame's administration. The Irish are no longer the premier team in college football. They no longer can pick and choose which recruits they'll honor with a scholarship, or hire the best available coach whenever there's a vacancy. They may finally conclude they can no longer exist as an Independent in football. Meyer chose the Gators over the Irish for a very good reason. It's a much better job. At this point, It's anyone's guess who will finally be named to replace Willingham, though I can guarantee you it will not be George O'Leary!. It appears Tommy Bowden will return to Clemson despite a disappointing 6-5 season that ended with a disgraceful brawl with South Carolina that cost both schools a bowl game. However, Bowden did make some major staff changes, firing his offensive and defensive coordinators and linebackers coach.
In the "Hirings Department," Illinois tapped former Florida coach Ron Zook to replace the fired Ron Turner. Zook received a five year contract. That looks like a great move! UNLV named Utah Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford as their new coach, replacing John Robinson who retired. Western Michigan selected Stanford Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit to replace the fired Gary Darnell. Cubit had previously served as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, and his son Ryan is a QB at the school. California rewarded Jeff Tedford with a five year contract extension, through 2009.
In the "Rumor Department," Stanford's top two choices to replace the fired Buddy Teevens are USC Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow and Pittsburgh Head Coach Walt Harris. Both will be interviewed this week. Utah wants their Defensive Coordinator, Kyle Whittingham, to replace Urban Meyer. However, Whittingham is also the top target of arch-rival BYU, and he's a former Cougar player. That should make for a lot of "buzz" in the Beehive State!
Next week, I'll begin to preview the upcoming bowl games. Meanwhile, here's a recap of last week's action:
Midwest - In the MAC Championship Game at Detroit's Ford Field, West champion Toledo upended East winner Miami (Ohio) 35-27. Junior QB Bruce Gradkowski was the star for the Rockets, overcoming a separated left shoulder and broken hand to complete 18 of 24 passes for 251 yards and 4 TDs. Miami led 14-7 at the half, but Toledo tied the game on a 22 yard TD pass from Gradkowski to senior WR Lance Moore on a perfectly executed flea flicker play. The Rockets then took the lead for good when junior OLB Keon Jackson intercepted a tipped Josh Betts pass and returned it 31 yards for a score. Miami responded with an 8 yard Betts TD pass to Ryan Busing but the PAT was blocked, leaving the RedHawks down 21-20. Toledo scored again in the 3rd quarter on a 28 yard TD pass from Gradkowski to Moore. The same combination clicked once more in the final period, this time from 29 yards. Miami pulled within eight points on a 13 yard TD pass from Betts to Josh Williams, but could not get any closer. For the Rockets, Moore had 5 receptions for 118 yards and Scooter McDougle added 167 yards on 35 carries. For the RedHawks, Betts was 20 of 33 for 304 yards and 3 TDs. WR Michael Larkin had 9 catches for 131 yards and a score. Toledo will meet Connecticut back at Ford Field in the Motor City Bowl on December 27th. Miami (Ohio) will meet Iowa State in the Independence Bowl on December 28th.
East - Navy completed a 9-2 season with a 42-13 rout of Army. The Middies' nine wins are the most
since 1963, when "Jolly Roger" Staubach was their QB. After a scoreless first fifteen minutes, Navy
scored twice in the first 3:54 of the 2nd quarter. Senior QB Aaron Polanco broke the ice on a 10 yard run,
and senior RB Kyle Eckel followed with a 23 yard TD run. The Middies scored twice more on a 67 yard
interception return by senior FS Josh Smith and a 12 yard TD pass from Polanco to junior WR Mick
Yokitis. The Black Knights finally got on the scoreboard in the final minute of the first half on a 6 yard TD
pass from junior QB Zac Dahman to Jimmy Trimble. Polanco completed 7 of 11 passes for 100 yards and 2 TDs. Eckel carried 26 times for a career-high 179 yards. Dahman was 20-39 for 163 yards and 2 scores.
The Middies will take on New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on December 30th.
South - In the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, #3 Auburn remained unbeaten with a 38-28 win over #15 Tennessee. Senior QB Jason Campbell had a terrific game for the Tigers. He completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 374 yards and 3 TDs and added 57 yards on 13 carries. His 431 yards of total offense broke the SEC Championship Game record. Auburn dominated play in the first 30 minutes, but several costly errors allowed the Volunteers to enter the locker room trailing only 21-7. Tennessee then tied the game in the 3rd quarter on a 17 yard TD pass from junior QB Rick Clausen to freshman WR Robert Meachem and an 80 yard TD run by Gerald Riggs. The Tigers regained the lead with 2:14 left in the 3rd quarter on a 53 yard TD pass from Campbell to junior WR Devin Aromashodo. Sophomore John Vaughn extended Auburn's lead to 31-21 with a 22 yard field goal early in the final period. The Vols immediately responded with an 80 yard drive culminating in a 9 yard TD run by Riggs. Auburn then put the game away as Campbell connected with Ben Obomanu on a 43 yard TD toss with 6:56 left. In addition to Campbell's heroics, senior RB Carnell Williams ran for 100 yards and a TD on 19 carries. For the Vols, Clausen was only 8 of 20 for 69 yards. Riggs had a game-high 182 yards on 11 rushes. Auburn has to settle for a Sugar Bowl meeting with Virginia Tech on January 3rd. Tennessee will be headed to the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day where they'll meet Texas A&M.
#4 California held off Southern Mississippi 26-16 in a game rescheduled from September 18th. The Golden Bears led 17-10 before Golden Eagles' junior QB Dustin Almond scored on a yard yard sneak with 5:56 to play. However, Thomas DeCoud blocked the potential tying PAT and senior LB Wendell Hunter took it 85 yards for a safety. California then put the game away on an 80 yard 3 play drive that ended with a 12 yard TD run by Marshawn Lynch. Bears' senior RB J.J. Arrington carried 31 times for 260 yards, his school-record 11th consecutive game with at least 100 rushing yards. Junior QB Aaron Rodgers completed 15 of 28 passes for 232 yards and 2 TDs. One of the TD passes went to senior WR Geoff McArthur, who had 6 receptions for 152 yards before suffering a broken leg late in the game. For Southern Mississippi, Almond was 17 of 37 for a career-high 305 yards and a TD. With Texas edging them out for a berth in the Rose Bowl, California will head to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 30th against Texas Tech. Southern Mississippi (6-5) will face Sun Belt champion North Texas (7-4) in the New Orleans Bowl on December 14th.
Senior QB Stefan LeFors returned to his home state and led #7 Louisville to a 55-7 rout of Tulane. The Cardinals jumped out to a 13-0 lead after the 1st quarter on two field goals by redshirt freshman Art Carmody wrapped around a one yard TD run by junior Eric Shelton. Louisville scored twice in the 2nd quarter on a fumble recovery in the end zone by junior DT Montavious Stanley and a 3 yard TD run by LeFors. LeFors finished with 19 completions in 27 attempts for 247 yards and a TD. Shelton had 57 yards and 2 TDs in 18 carries. Carmody booted all 7 PATs, and broke the NCAA record for consecutive conversions with 72. Louisville set an NCAA record, becoming the first school to score at least 55 points in five consecutive games. The Cardinals' defense totally shut down the Green wave, limiting them to 107 yards of total offense including minus 17 on the ground. With the loss, Tulane fell to 5-6 and out of bowl contention. Louisville will meet undefeated Boise State in the Liberty Bowl on December 31st.
In a showdown at the Orange Bowl for the ACC title, Virginia Tech edged Miami 16-10. The winning score came on a 39 yard TD pass from senior QB Bryan Randall to WR Eddie Royal with 11:29 to play. The Hokies got on the scoreboard first on a 3 yard Randall TD pass to junior TE Jeff King early in the 2nd quarter. The Hurricanes answered with a 2 yard TD run by sophomore RB Tyrone Moss. Virginia Tech took a 10-7 lead into the locker room on a 45 yard field goal by sophomore Brandon Pace. Miami's sophomore kicker, Jon Peattie, tied the game at 10 with a 23 yard field goal in the 3rd quarter. Randall completed 11 of 18 passes for 147 yards, and junior RB Cedric Humes added 113 yards on 27 carries. The Hokies' defense frustrated senior QB Brock Berlin and the Canes defense all afternoon. Berlin completed 16 of 31 passes for 140 yards, but Miami only amassed 51 rushing yards and had just 7 first downs. Virginia Tech will face Auburn in the Sugar Bowl on January 3rd. Miami will travel to Atlanta's Peach Bowl to play Florida on New Year's Eve.
#19 Pittsburgh locked up a BCS Bowl bid with a 43-14 thumping of South Florida. Sophomore QB Tyler Palko paced the Panther win, completing 19 of 28 passes for a career-high 411 yards and 5 TDs. Three of Palko's TD tosses were to fellow sophomore WR Greg Lee, including an 18 yarder for the game's first score. Senior OLB Malcolm Postell extended the Panthers' lead to 14-0 when he returned an interception of a Pat Julmiste pass 15 yards for a TD. It was Postell's third defensive TD of the year, all on interception returns, which broke the school record. Postell had a second interception later in the game. Lee, a Tampa native, had 8 receptions for 153 yards. For the Bulls, Julmiste was 12-21 for 129 yards. Pittsburgh will take on undefeated Utah in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
Southwest - #2 Oklahoma kept their focus on the Big Twelve Championship Game, and it paid off with a 42-3 rout of Colorado. The Sooners let an undefeated season slip away last year when they lost to heavy underdog Kansas State in the title game, though they still were selected to play LSU in the BCS National Championship game. Oklahoma took no chances this time. Their two Heisman Trophy candidates, last year's winner senior QB Jason White and true freshman RB Adrian Peterson, each accounted for 3 TDs. White opened the scoring with a 5 yard TD pass to senior WR Will Peoples. He then found his favorite target, senior WR Mark Clayton, with two 22 yard TD tosses. Peterson completed the 1st half scoring with a one yard TD run, then added two more in the 2nd half. White finished with 22 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards. Clayton had 8 receptions for 106 yards. Peterson carried 28 times for 171 yards. The Sooners' defense limited the Buffaloes to just 43 yards of total offense and 3 first downs. The Sooners will meet USC on January 4th for the BCS National Championship in Miami's Orange Bowl. Colorado will face UTEP in the Houston Bowl on December 29th.
West - #1 USC made it into the Orange Bowl, but not without a struggle. The Trojans held off city rival UCLA 29-24 in Pasadena. Sophomore RB Reggie Bush paced USC, rushing 15 times for a career-high 204 yards and both Trojans' TDs. Bush also caught 6 passes for 73 yards. USC quickly opened up a 7-0 lead on the game's 2nd play on Bush's 65 yard run. Senior Ryan Killeen extended the Trojans' lead to 10-0 with the first of his five field goals. The Bruins closed the gap to 10-7 in the 2nd quarter on a school-record 96 yard punt return by senior Craig Bragg. Bush then tallied his 2nd TD on an 81 yard run. Bruins' sophomore Justin Medlock and Kileen traded 43 yard field goals to leave the Trojans ahead 20-10 at intermission. Killeen opened the 2nd half scoring with a 34 yard field goal, but the Bruins responded on a 9 yard TD run by senior RB Manuel White to trail 23-17 after 3 quarters. USC got two more Killeen field goals, from 36 and 34 yards, to extend their lead to 29-17. The Bruins pulled within five points on a 4 yard TD pass from junior QB Drew Olson to junior TE Marcedes Lewis with 2:20 remaining. Their final drive was snuffed out when Olson was intercepted by senior FS Jason Leach. Trojans' junior QB Matt Leinart completed 24 of 34 passes for 242 yards. However, he failed to throw a TD pass for the first time in 25 career starts. For UCLA, Olson was 20 of 34 for 278 yards. The 6-5 Bruins will meet Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 23rd.
Hawaii improved to 7-5 with a come-from-behind 41-38 win over Michigan State. The Rainbow Warriors' senior combo of QB Timmy Chang and WR Chad Owens were too much for the Spartans to handle. Chang completed 29 of 49 passes for 416 yards and 4 TDs, all to Owens. Chabg also scored the go-ahead TD in the 4th quarter on a one yard run. For the Spartans, senior RB DeAndra Cobb carried 16 times for 128 yards. Hawaii will face UAB on Christmas Eve in the Hawaii Bowl.
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