Time to put Auburn in BCS title conversation
The shootout unfolded, just like we expected. It was Cam Newton outscoring ... Tyler Wilson? OK, so no one could have predicted Ryan Mallett's backup would duel, at least for a while, and look every bit the equal of the starting quarterbacks in Auburn's 65-43 win over Arkansas (RECAP | BOX).
But after Mallett was knocked out of the game with a second-quarter concussion, Wilson played like, well, a Heisman candidate. The game was rock-em, sock-em right up until three straight fourth-quarter turnovers -- the last two were interceptions tossed by Wilson -- led to Auburn touchdowns.
The big win -- in a typical SEC defensive struggle -- pushes Auburn into the thick of the BCS championship conversation. Newton, who ran for 189 yards and three touchdowns and completed 10-of-14 passes for 140 yards and another score, is the catalyst who could lead them there.
It's also time to rev up the Heisman campaign for Newton, who might be the most dynamic dual-threat quarterback since Vince Young. He just ... does ... not ... go ... down. Pity the defensive back who tries. As an aside, you have to think the Florida fans who have suffered through three straight loses (more on that later) cringed and turned away, recognizing Newton was once a Gator, and might have made a pretty nice successor to Tim Tebow. That's all gone now; Newton's troubled past is, well, in the past.
And Auburn's future looks pretty nice. Newton could fuel a run at the SEC championship, and we know what that might mean. The crystal football might be staying in Alabama -- just not in Tuscaloosa.
On the other sideline, it looked like Arkansas' flickering SEC hopes were extinguished when Mallett's head got foggy after a second-quarter hit. Instead, Wilson, a sophomore, came on and threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns. If, as expected, Mallett leaves after the season for the NFL draft, the Hogs will be in good hands in 2011.
The game turned when Arkansas' Broderick Green fumbled with 9:44 left. Auburn safety Zac Etheridge returned it for a touchdown and a 51-43 lead. A few seconds later, Wilson's inexperience finally showed. He threw a bad pick over the middle, and then another on Arkansas' next possession. Auburn scored touchdowns after both, and the win was secure.
The Tigers have defensive concerns -- Arkansas piled up 567 yards against a suspect secondary, but it probably won't matter until an Iron Bowl showdown with 'Bama. If Newton keeps playing like this, it might not matter at all.
Another week, another No. 1 goes down.
Wisconsin's 31-18 upset of Ohio State probably means Oregon will assume the top ranking. But considering what we've seen in the last eight days, the folk in Eugene, Ore., might not want to celebrate too hard.
Last week it was Alabama. Now it's Ohio State falling victim to an upset on the road, and in fairly similar fashion (RECAP | BOX). And suddenly, the season has a similar feel to 2007, when every week, top teams kept dropping.
The chaos is fun to watch, and the big winner isn't Oregon on its bye week. It's Boise State. Or maybe TCU.
Oregon will move to No. 1. But for how long? Plenty of difficult games remain ahead of the Ducks. Meanwhile, the Broncos and Horned Frogs keep winning, watching the BCS big boys knock each other off -- and wondering if this season might just produce the ultimate anarchy.
Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes' dreams of a national title were derailed, at least for now, by Wisconsin's strong first half. But given what's happened so far, even they shouldn't be completely counted out. In the last two weekends, we've seen one thing: No (No.) 1 is safe.
When Anthony Mosley cradled the interception in the end zone with four seconds left, preserving Kentucky's 31-28 upset win over South Carolina (RECAP | BOX), my immediate thought was that Stephen Garcia was going to be criticized, but the ol' ball coach should take the heat.
After giving up the lead, the Gamecocks had moved downfield and were in position with 11 seconds left to force overtime with a field goal. But Steve Spurrier called his final timeout, then called for one more pass. Garcia's toss toward Lamar Scruggs wasn't a good one; it was deflected into Mosley's hands.
With that, Spurrier's fears that his team wouldn't handle prosperity were realized. South Carolina blew an 18-point lead, and the SEC East plunged deeper into chaos. And Kentucky had the biggest win of Joker Phillips' first year as head coach.
Give Phillips credit for guts. Trailing 28-17 early in the fourth quarter, he went for it on fourth-and-short at midfield. Randall Cobb ran for 12 yards. The Wildcats scored on the next play, a 38-yard pass from Mike Hartline to Chris Matthews, and the momentum was theirs.
Remember when Denard Robinson was the Heisman frontrunner? It's unclear today whether he's even Michigan's best quarterback. Saturday, he headed for the bench in the third quarter, apparently banged up, but backup Tate Forcier was more effective in a futile comeback attempt.
After Iowa's 38-28 win (RECAP | BOX), it's also unclear whether the Wolverines are headed down a familiar path -- and what that might mean for Rich Rodriguez's prospects. A year ago, you'll recall, Michigan won its first four games, then lost six of seven.
This year? After a 5-0 start fueled by the frenetic kid with the untied shoes, Michigan has lost two in a row. The remainder of the schedule is loaded -- not a sure win in the bunch. And suddenly, we're not sure whether Robinson is the quarterback who can cool down RichRod's hotseat. Forcier is a much better passer (his 45-yard touchdown toss pulled the Wolverines within a touchdown in the fourth quarter) and passing is fairly important.
In retrospect, it was unfair to anoint Robinson so early. He was spectacular against lesser competition, but you knew the going would get a lot more difficult. For the Wolverines, too.
Maybe it's only a mild upset -- and it's shocking to write that -- but Mississippi State 10, Florida 7 at the Swamp shouldn't be overlooked (RECAP | BOX).
It's a huge win for Dan Mullen's Bulldogs. And, well, a huger loss for his former boss' reeling Gators. Urban Meyer's bunch has lost three straight, and the season-long offensive problems don't seem fixable.
We knew the Gators were struggling. But scoring seven points at home? Losing to Mississippi State? The very idea that they'd have to attempt a 42-yard field goal (wide right) with four seconds left, hoping to force overtime?
The answer is: Nope. The question, of course, was whether USC would pack it in after losing two in a row for the first time since 2001.
How about 42-0 over California? Five touchdown passes by Matt Barkley? That was the halftime score and stats, by the way.
The final was 48-14 (RECAP | BOX), which only means Lane Kiffin's second-half goal -- "We need to play better," he told a TV reporter during the halftime interview -- went unreached.
Barkley threw for 352 yards, but USC's offense hasn't been the problem. More important, Monte Kiffin's maligned defense held Cal to 245 yards. Suddenly, an Oct. 30 home date with No. 2 Oregon looks like it could be a wildly entertaining showdown.
As a rule, I hate the idea of midseason firings. But in the case of Minnesota and Tim Brewster, it is past time for a change. With a 28-17 loss at Purdue, the Gophers dropped to 1-6 (RECAP | BOX). It's hard to find another win on the remaining schedule. It's really difficult, based on what we've seen so far, to imagine them beating anybody.
Which is why the rumors and reports swirled all week about Brewster's immediate future. We say "immediate" because his fate is a foregone conclusion -- it's only a matter of when. With today's loss, Brewster is 15-30 in four seasons. When school president Robert Bruininks starts his speech to a conference of community leaders on Wednesday by saying, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "It will be difficult for me to speak intelligently on effective community leadership when I have a 1-5 football team" -- well, we all know what 1-6 means, don't we?
The Gophers didn't go down easy to middling Purdue, but if they played hard, they also exhibited all the signs of discombobulation that have confounded and frustrated fans. Here were two dazzling lowlights that changed the game and may have hastened Brewster's exit:
Despite a high snap over his head, Dan Orseske had time to punt midway through the second quarter. Instead, he panicked, tried to run and lost 28 yards, giving Purdue a very short field en route to a touchdown.
On the second play of the third quarter, Gary Tinsley fumbled away a potential momentum-changing interception. Somehow, as he approached the goal line, Tinsley managed to toss the football directly at the pylon -- touchback, Purdue's ball -- and the Boilermakers promptly went 80 yards in 13 plays for a three-touchdown lead.
Those are the kind of unforced errors that happen when everyone knows it's over.
The email popped into my inbox right after the final gun in Oklahoma State's 34-17 win at Texas Tech: "As an OK State alum and fan, I must ask what you would like with your big helping of crow?"
Tobasco, I guess. And some sweet tea. But crow it is, because after I picked the Cowboys to finish fifth in the Big 12 South, they're 6-0 overall, 2-0 in conference play, and a legitimate contender to win the division.
They've got a big-time offense led by a fantastic receiver: Justin Blackmon. Remember the name. And when you do, think Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree. Brandon Weeden has stepped in at quarterback, and the Cowboys have a very good running game led by Kendall Hunter, but Blackmon is a difference-maker.
His 62-yard touchdown catch put away Texas Tech (RECAP | BOX). Now, can the Oklahoma State fans put away the laptops? Please?
Nah, didn't think so.
What is it with Florida State? Is this the team that blew out Miami? The team that was blown out by Oklahoma? All of the above, I think. The Seminoles outlasted Boston College, and they're probably the ACC's best -- faint praise there -- but they continue to confound.
What to make of Christian Ponder? The one-time Heisman candidate tossed three interceptions, including a third-quarter pick-six that pulled Boston College within a point (RECAP | BOX).
Five minutes into the game, BC's Montel Harris had already rushed for 138 yards, and he finished with 191, continuing his three-year assault on the Seminoles' defense. FSU had been allowing 94 rushing yards. If the Eagles weren't handicapped with a green quarterback in Chase Rettig, they might have won at Doak Campbell.
We wondered, even as Missouri went 5-0 without leaving the Show Me State, what it meant. The Tigers beat Illinois -- and that looks pretty good now -- but also feasted on four creampuffs. After a 30-9 win at Texas A&M (RECAP | BOX), it's time to consider whether they could present a challenge to Nebraska in the Big 12 North.
Saturday in College Station, Texas, Blaine Gabbert carved up the Aggies -- 31-of-47, 361 yards, three TDs -- en route to a romp. But the revelation was the Tigers defense, which is more than just a statistical creation. They're fast and physical. They pressured Jerrod Johnson all day, completely stuffed the Aggies' run game (57 yards on 33 carries) and threatened a shutout at Kyle Field before allowing a third-quarter field goal and a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown.
Is Mizzou ready for primetime? We'll find out in a hurry. The Tigers host Oklahoma next week, then play at Lincoln on Oct. 30. If you're tempted to fast-forward Nebraska into the Big 12 championship game even after the Texas loss, you might want to wait a couple more weeks.
Meanwhile, the Aggies (3-3, 0-2) are headed toward another forgettable season, and it's hard to remember that, before the season, there was plenty of optimism. Johnson was a chic preseason pick as the Big 12's offensive player of the year (OK, he was my pick, anyway, in SI.com's preseason package). Johnson remains wildly talented -- and wildly inconsistent. As A&M struggles for bowl eligibility, we can cue the grumbling and the speculation about Mike Sherman's future.