Afterthoughts in December, Miami and Cal now poised for great things
When the 2009 season began, we "experts" generally placed four teams -- Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and USC -- in a class by themselves. This demarcation didn't require much imagination on our parts, as all four played in BCS bowls last year.
But as with any season, new contenders have inevitably emerged from places we'd least expect. Like the Emerald Bowl.
Last December, 8-4 Cal beat 7-5 Miami, 24-17, in what seemed at the time an inconsequential bowl game. At the time, the only things that stood out were Bears running back
Over the next two weeks, the Bears and 'Canes could place themselves squarely at the front of their respective conferences. Cal, 3-0 and ranked sixth in the latest AP poll following Saturday's 35-21 win at Minnesota, begins Pac-10 play this weekend with a trip to Oregon, then heads back home to play suddenly vulnerable USC. Win both, and Cal -- which hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1959 -- will be sitting in first place, having conquered what may be its two toughest league games.
Miami (2-0), which has jumped from unranked in the preseason to No. 9 following wins over ranked foes Florida State and Georgia Tech, visits No. 11 Virginia Tech this weekend with a chance to jump to a 3-0 start in ACC play. Should the 'Canes prevail, they would then meet No. 10 Oklahoma with a chance to thrust themselves into the heart of the national-title race.
"A lot of people expected us to go 0-4," Miami safety
They were thinking that the once-dominant 'Canes had gone 19-19 the past three seasons and, though likely improved thanks to third-year coach
But Miami came out looking completely revamped from a year ago. Led by precocious sophomore quarterback
Harris, who showed flashes of things to come with a 25-of-41, two-touchdown performance that night in San Francisco, currently ranks as the nation's third-leading passer. Miami's O-line and running game are much improved, and new coordinator
"Miami didn't just arrive right now," Cal coach
Tedford's team can't be considered as big of a surprise. If anything, Cal has started out exactly as predicted. But the Bears have often wilted under hype -- see 2007, when they started 5-0 and rose to No. 2 before losing six of seven -- which is why Saturday's road win was important.
Faced with adversity when the Gophers rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game at 21-21 late in the third quarter, quarterback
"I feel good about this team," Tedford said. "A lot of guys on this team were here two years ago when we got to No. 2 and the wheels came off. We have more maturity and different team chemistry now."
Obviously, the Bears' Pac-10 title hopes got a whole lot rosier Saturday based less on their win than seven-time defending league champion USC's 16-13 loss at Washington. It would be foolish to write off the Trojans, which played the Huskies without injured quarterback
This is the chance Cal has been waiting for since 2003, the year Tedford's program stormed onto the scene with a 34-31 victory over the Trojans. The Bears have been chasing USC ever since, losing five straight meetings, but they best not look past Oregon, which just ended Utah's 16-game winning streak.
"We've learned our lesson that in this conference, you have to be ready every single week," Tedford said. "The environment we went to play in at Minnesota was very similar to Oregon's stadium. It was what we needed for sure, to play a tough physical game in a hostile environment."
Miami faces its own treacherous trip this weekend at two-time defending ACC champ Virginia Tech. The Hokies pulled off an improbable win Saturday over Nebraska, overcoming another bout of offensive ineptitude by holding the Huskers without a touchdown in a dramatic, last-second 16-15 victory. The Hokies' defense will come after Harris, who threw two interceptions against Florida State but was nearly flawless against Georgia Tech (20-of-25, 270 yards, three TDs, no INTs).
If anything, however, Miami gained even more validation on its off-day Saturday when the Seminoles went and trounced No. 7 BYU. The 'Canes may be more "back" than we realized at the time.
"We're ready for anyone," Phillips said. "We embraced the schedule, and we're still embracing it."
Win again this week, and the nation will have to start embracing the 'Canes, too.
In a sport full of coaches perennially looking ahead to the next game, it was refreshing to call Washington coach
"When good things like this happen, you have to sit back and enjoy it," said the first-year Huskies coach, who celebrated Saturday night with a gathering at his house for staff and their families. "It would be wrong to look too far ahead or nitpick too many things."
Despite his and defensive coordinator
Once the game started, USC jumped to a 10-0 lead largely by gashing the Huskies' defense on the ground. Washington adjusted by subbing in true freshman defensive end
"We have excellent, excellent leaders on defense, players that are little better than people might think," Sarkisian said.
"A lot of those wins at 'SC, the pundits all said you're supposed to win," Sarkisian said. "In this game, you're a huge underdog. It's a different feeling, but one with a lot of joy."
It's not impossible the Rebels and/or Nittany Lions boast top five teams; I just don't know how one could tell. Ole Miss to date boasts blowouts of Memphis and Southeast Louisiana, while Penn State has beaten up on Akron, Syracuse and Temple. The only reason these teams remain ranked ahead of more accomplished teams like Cal and Miami is because they started that way.
The Seminoles came within a last-second end zone drop of beating Miami in Week 1. It was pretty clear that night they were two evenly matched teams, yet they remain nine spots apart in the AP poll and 12 in the coaches. At least AP voters had the sense to rank FSU ahead of BYU. The coaches still have the 'Noles five spots behind a team they just drubbed 54-28 on the Cougars' home field.
Lots of changes this week. Miami takes over the ACC's spot in the Orange Bowl, Cal takes over the Pac-10's spot in the Rose Bowl and Boise State reclaims favored status among potential BCS-busters following BYU's loss (though neither the Cougars, TCU or Houston are out of it). The Orange Bowl at-large spot was the toughest to fill. Flying in a 10-2 USC team with presumably disinterested fans would not be all that desirable for the Orange Bowl committee, but it'd still probably be preferable to taking Boise or Cincinnati.
• It was a weekend of devastating injuries to key players. South Florida quarterback
Elsewhere, Notre Dame lost star wide receiver
• It looked like West Virginia might have suffered its own injury blow when senior quarterback
• Yet again,
• From the depths of its Boise State debacle, Oregon has improved to 2-1 after knocking off No. 18 Utah, but it's still hard to put faith in the Ducks. Quarterback
• Where have you gone,
• It's not every day you see a team forced to punt on fourth-and-goal, but that's exactly what happened to Nebraska late in the third quarter against Virginia Tech. Starting with a first-and-goal at the Hokies' six, the Huskers first had a touchdown pass nullified by holding, then committed three more false start or holding penalties that drove them back to the 37 and out of field-goal range.
• The early scouting report on Arkansas: quarterback
• Texas A&M has quietly undergone a massive offensive overhaul after
• Syracuse coach
• One day I swear I'll stop overlooking Connecticut. A week after nearly knocking off North Carolina, the Huskies went to Baylor a 10-point underdog and left with a 30-22 victory. Lest you think
• Fresno State running back
• Embattled Virginia coach
• Here's all you need to know about the state of Maryland's program: The Terps lost Saturday to Middle Tennessee State -- for the second straight season.
• N.C. State quarterback
• Northern Illinois, which came in with a 1-32-1 all-time record against Big Ten foes, knocked off Purdue 28-21 for its first win over a Big Ten team since 1988.
• I regret that the deadline for this column prevents me from commenting on Sunday night's
Is it too early to start the Army bowl watch?
Under new coach
''It feels right. It feels like that's the way it should be,'' said Ellerson, whose team previously beat Eastern Michigan but lost to Duke. ''But we don't want to start the celebration too soon."
Of course they don't. But that doesn't mean the rest of us can't scout Army's schedule and find four more potential wins: Tulane (Oct. 3), at Temple (Oct. 17), VMI (Nov. 14) and at North Texas (Nov. 21). The Black Knights already have a standing invite from the EagleBank Bowl if eligible.
But I've yet to hear a logical explanation for why ESPN has chosen to relentlessly interweave snippets from sappy 15-year-old Dave Matthews songs like
However, Saturday on CBS, following a
Thanks for letting me rant.
According to the description by this particular uploader, the Tennessee safety "jacked up Tim Tebow" in their epic collision during Saturday's contest. Personally, I kind of saw it the other way. To the judges...
Last week, Gus Johnson
Let's face it: Twitter has completely changed the Saturday game-watching experience. If you've been
As you may have seen,
I don't know about that. If my career was dependent on picking games correctly, I would have been unemployed long ago. But coming as it did on the heels of a nightmarish 3-7 week, I appreciate the love (even Sarkisian noticed).
But now I'm wondering ... does this make next week my "trap game?"
• Ole Miss at South Carolina, Thursday (7:45 p.m. ET): At last, the No. 4 team in the country faces someone of note. Will that someone shut down Rebels quarterback
• Miami at Virginia Tech, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): I've given up trying to figure out the Hokies. They had been outgained by Nebraska 343-190 before producing a game-winning 88-yard drive. Either they'll intercept Harris three times, run back a punt and win 19-17, or they'll suffer a fate worse than Georgia Tech.
• Texas Tech at Houston, Saturday (9:15 p.m. ET): If the Cougars want to bust the BCS, they need another Big 12 win. The Red Raiders largely slowed down