Oregon's D gets Ducks in mix, TCU makes jump, BCS picks and more
During the latter stages of No. 1 Alabama's near-unraveling against Tennessee, someone asked me
That's one way of looking at it. Florida certainly added to that perception Saturday night against Mississippi State. But I've seen enough unglamorous national champions this decade (2000 Oklahoma, 2002 Ohio State, 2003 LSU, 2006 Florida) to know it's unwise to doubt anyone with a dominant defense. And this year we happen to be seeing a whole bunch of them.
It's hardly surprising to see Florida, Texas, Penn State, Alabama and TCU sitting in the top five nationally in total defense. We've come to expect it from those programs. Iowa's best teams have also usually been of the blue-collar variety.
But Oregon? Seriously? Where did this come from?
While teams like the Gators and Crimson Tide struggled to put away inferior opponents Saturday, the resurgent, 10th-ranked Ducks (6-1) plastered Washington 43-19 to improve to 4-0 in the Pac-10. In those contests, they've allowed an average of 9.5 points. Heading into next weekend's gargantuan showdown with No. 4 USC (the winner will take control of the Pac-10 driver's seat), a program better known for its garish uniforms and high-octane offense has reinvented itself with opportunistic defense and special teams. Frankly, it defies logic.
"I didn't see it coming," admitted Ducks defensive coordinator
Consider: Oregon has not finished in the top 40 nationally in total defense since 2004. This year, it ranks 19th. Four starters from last year's defense, including All-Americas
Yet last Saturday in Seattle, the Ducks sacked Huskies quarterback
For the most part, Oregon is generating pressure with a front four comprised largely of undersized career backups, most notably 6-foot-3, 232-pound defensive end
"I am extremely proud of our front four. They have played beyond what I thought they could be due to lack of experience," said Aliotti. "It's kind of an unsung-hero defense. There isn't any real star. You wish you could bottle up this type of attitude and chemistry."
Against Washington, Oregon also blocked a punt for a touchdown, set up another with a fake field goal and once again rode freshman tailback
But it's the defense more than the offense that gives Oregon a shot at pulling off a potential landmark win this weekend against the Trojans.
While it's true USC's normally stout defense has played poorly in the second halves of its past two games (the Trojans allowed a staggering 482 yards in Saturday's 42-36 win over Oregon State),
At the time, that game put Oregon in position to end the Trojans' run of Pac-10 supremacy, but Dixon suffered an ACL injury the following week and the Ducks wound up losing their last three conference games. Now, they get another shot. A victory Saturday would give Oregon (4-0) a two-game lead in the standings over seven-time defending champion USC (3-1), a feat that would be all the more remarkable considering just how disastrously the Ducks season began that infamous night in Boise.
"They're solid," Washington defensive coordinator
Perhaps it's asking too much. Perhaps the Trojans' veteran offensive line will impose its will against Rowe and Co. Perhaps quarterback
Either way, this figures to be one of the season's most intriguing games to date because of the multitude of ramifications. A Trojans win will put them squarely at the front of the BCS one-loss pack. An Oregon win will put the Ducks in the Rose Bowl driver's seat, push USC to the cusp of rare BCS oblivion -- and, interestingly, further help Boise State's cause.
The Sept. 3 Oregon-Boise State game was an eventful way to begin the year. At the time, the low-scoring 19-8 contest was almost an afterthought to the Blount melee that followed. Who would have guessed it would actually set the tone for this defensive-dominated season -- both at Oregon and across the country?
Theoretically, Oregon's continued success should be boosting Boise State in its quest for a BCS berth. However, as of Sunday night, the Broncos are no longer the highest-ranked non-BCS team -- and I can't say I disagree.
If you watched TCU's game Saturday night at BYU, you saw a team that is capable of playing with anyone. In what was purported to be one of their toughest remaining tests, the Horned Frogs walked into LaVell Edwards Stadium and plastered the Cougars, 38-7.
"That defense is the best defense that I've faced," said Hall, who, you may recall, faced Oklahoma's D in the season opener.
The guy who impressed me most, however, lined up on offense. Previous Patterson quarterbacks have largely been caretakers who take a backseat to the Frogs' defenses and running game. But junior
"We've always known if we put the three phases of the game together we felt like we could beat anyone," offensive lineman
If both win out, the TCU/Boise race figures to become a BCS controversy-within-a-controversy. In
Personally, I'd like to see both play in BCS games, because I believe they're both legitimate top 10 teams. If I had to choose one, however, I'd love the opportunity to see TCU put its speed up against Florida or USC.
The BCS computer formulas don't care about style points. They do care about schedule strength, though. That's why 8-0 Iowa, despite sitting just eighth in the coaches poll, currently stands next in line behind Florida/Alabama/Texas in the BCS race.
Say what you want about the Hawkeyes' decidedly ugly brand of football -- they've beaten more BCS-conference opponents with winning records (7-1 Penn State, 5-2 Wisconsin, 5-2 Arizona, 5-3 Iowa State and 5-3 Michigan) than any undefeated team and their opponents' combined record of 38-22 (.633) is far better than that of any other top 10 team.
Hence, five of the six BCS computer polls currently rank Iowa No. 1, placing the Hawkeyes solidly in fourth in the overall standings.
A week after downgrading Texas due to
• Championship Saturday (Dec. 5) may include a new setting this year: Pittsburgh. The Panthers (7-1, 4-0 Big East), who routed USF 41-14 on Saturday, and Cincinnati (7-0, 3-0), which torched Louisville 41-10 behind a near-perfect day from backup quarterback
West Virginia (6-1, 2-0), which faces both teams before then, will have a say in the Big East race as well, but the Mountaineers haven't been nearly as dominant as the Bearcats and Panthers. While Cincinnati's offense has received no shortage of pub, Pittsburgh has quietly produced quite the balanced attack. The Panthers boast both the nation's No. 3 passer (
• Does anyone want to win the Big 12 North? Apparently, not Nebraska, whose woeful offense committed eight -- yes, eight -- turnovers in a 9-7 home loss to Iowa State. Congratulations to the Cyclones, who posted their first win in Lincoln since 1977 and improved to 2-2 in the conference, which, in the North, makes them a contender. The six teams are a combined 8-12 in league play.
• Remarkably, Iowa State-Nebraska wasn't even the strangest Big 12 result Saturday. That would be Texas A&M's 52-30 beatdown of Texas Tech. Only a week earlier, the Aggies were on the wrong end of a 62-14 loss to Kansas State -- which itself lost 66-14 a week earlier to ... Texas Tech. Don't even try to wrap your head around that chain of events. You'll go cross-eyed.
• Amidst an otherwise miserable season for Florida State, quarterback
• Georgia Tech (7-1, 5-1 ACC) is about as close as a team can come this early to locking up a division. Following a 34-9 win at Virginia and Miami's 40-37 loss to Clemson, the Jackets are tied for first in the loss column in the ACC Coastal with two teams (Virginia Tech and Virginia) they've already beaten and another (Duke) they really should beat. Their only other league foe: Wake Forest.
• By the way, that wasn't a misprint about Duke (4-3, 2-1 ACC). With a 17-13 win Saturday over 2-6 Maryland, the Blue Devils won consecutive conference games for the first time since 1994. (They previously routed N.C. State). Quarterback
• Previously torrid Arizona quarterback
• Ole Miss' offense finally got its groove back in a 30-17 win over Arkansas. Quarterback
• Northwestern (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) is making a habit of gigantic comebacks. The Wildcats fell behind 28-3 in the second quarter against Indiana before gradually chipping away (and withstanding three
• Idaho (6-2), whose bandwagon had been growing considerably in recent weeks, suffered a humbling 70-45 defeat at Nevada (4-3). Wolf Pack quarterback
• In a battle of previously winless squads, Ball State (1-7) beat Eastern Michigan (0-7), 29-27, on
The 32-year-old has a far less glamorous job now: offensive coordinator at Indiana State. On Saturday, though, he helped the Sycamores make history -- or, perhaps more accurately,
Indiana State, which had last won on Oct. 21, 2006, was one more loss away from tying Northwestern for the third-longest losing streak in Division I history. But sophomore quarterback
"Troy Walters called a great game on offense," Indiana State coach
Still, I can't get over the fact that Walters -- who had no previous coaching experience -- is the Sycamores' offensive coordinator. Ironically, the connection between Walters and Miles is none other than
Tim Tebow's 2008 season was defined by "The Speech." Saturday night, after what was unquestionably the worst performance of his Florida career, the Gators star had nothing to say. It marked the first time as a starter (besides the Kentucky concussion game) that Tebow was not available to the media.
I'm not one of those writers who feels an athlete is morally obligated to help fill reporters' notebooks, and it's hard to criticize a guy who's never once complained about his highly public existence. But Tebow's rare bout as a recluse speaks volumes about the level of frustration he's undoubtedly feeling right now.
Saturday night at Mississippi State, the former Heisman winner threw not one, but two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns (both on tipped passes, both by Bulldogs freshman safety
Tebow finished just 12-of-22 for 127 yards on the night, his lone highlight coming on a 26-yard touchdown run.
"He's very frustrated," Gators coach
Tebow is hardly the only one to blame for Florida's continued offensive woes. The offensive line has allowed 10 sacks in the past two games. Receiver
Still, Tebow is the one with the "Superman" label, the guy who television announcers talk about "willing his team to win" at least 10 times per broadcast. So far this season, that image has been shattered. He's thrown eight touchdowns in seven games. He's been held below 200 yards passing in all but one game. He remained on most Heisman Watch lists coming into the week, but after Saturday night's display, I don't see how that could possibly continue.
We came into the year debating whether Tebow might become the
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