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Epic Rose Bowl in store, Cowboys exploited again; more Snaps

TCU and Wisconsin poured on the style points Saturday, but it won't matter if Oregon and Auburn win. If the seeds hold next week, the Horned Frogs and Badgers are both bound for Pasadena -- where the only style that matters will be smashmouth.

TCU whipped lowly New Mexico, 66-17, despite losing starting quarterback Andy Dalton to an elbow injury midway through the second quarter (RECAP | BOX). For two series after the injury, fans were treated to one of the all-time quarterback name matchups: TCU's Yogi Gallegos against New Mexico's Stump Godfrey. Alas, TCU's coaches elected to yank Gallegos in favor of Casey Pachall. Stump, unfortunately, was yanked after a third-quarter interception.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, pounded Dan Persa-less Northwestern, 70-23 (RECAP | BOX). This time, no one can accuse the Badgers -- who didn't even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter and took three knees near the goal line -- of running up the score. The Wildcats handed the Badgers the ball seven times, and Northwestern simply couldn't stop Wisconsin back Montee Ball, who averaged 9.2 yards a carry and scored four touchdowns. The truly scary part? When John Clay is 100 percent healthy, Ball is the Badgers' third option at tailback.

If Auburn and Oregon do win, the Rose could be the most intriguing matchup of the remaining BCS bowls. Unlike last year, when TCU had to face Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Horned Frogs will get their shot to prove themselves against an AQ-conference champ. And Wisconsin isn't just any AQ-conference champ. The Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the country. They've been juggernauts this past month.

Hopefully, both teams will get to Pasadena at full strength. Forget the AQ vs. non-AQ ramifications. This would just be one hell of a football game.

Oklahoma State wasn't ready.

It really seemed as if this was the year the Cowboys would break through. They got shut out in last year's Bedlam with a potential BCS at-large berth on the line. This year, Oklahoma State appeared to have the better team.

Yet when it mattered most, Oklahoma State's defense collapsed twice Saturday in the most egregious fashion imaginable. Twice late in the fourth quarter of a 47-41 (RECAP | BOX) loss to Oklahoma, the Cowboys let a Sooners receiver get behind everyone. First, Landry Jones -- who had thrown three interceptions -- found Cameron Kenney on third-and-12 from his own 14-yard line and Kenney went 86 yards for the score. Then, two plays after Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, James Hanna snuck behind the entire secondary. How wide-open was Hanna on his 76-yard score? I could have replaced Hanna and colleague Stewart Mandel could have replaced Jones and we could have connected for the same touchdown.

Officially, Oklahoma's win forces a three-way tie with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M atop the Big 12 South standings. The tiebreaker is the BCS standings, unless the top two teams are separated by one spot. In that case, the winner of the head-to-head would go. So unless Texas A&M manages to jump within one spot of Oklahoma, the Sooners will face Nebraska next week in a Big 12 title game for the ages.

The Sooners are in this position because Jones never lost confidence after those three picks. (One was returned for a touchdown by Shaun Lewis. Another required a tremendous effort by Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown to redirect a ball heading out of bounds to Lewis for his second interception.) Jones kept right on throwing, and he made the throws the Sooners needed at the most critical moments.

"You watch some of the great quarterbacks -- the Joe Montanas and those guys -- they'll have bad days and then they'll have a fourth quarter that wins the game and that's all anybody talks about. ... The important thing is to stay after it," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "You're still going to have opportunities to make your plays. And maybe, he's getting that."

The biggest winner from Boise State's loss might be Stanford. Since losing to Oregon on Oct. 2, the Cardinal have been dominant most weeks. Saturday, they hammered Oregon State 38-0 (RECAP | BOX) to finish the regular season 11-1.

Because Stanford doesn't have a huge traveling fan base, the Cardinal weren't considered a lock for a BCS at-large bid, especially because the Rose Bowl will have to take TCU if Oregon goes 12-0 and makes the BCS title game. But after Boise State was shocked by Nevada on Friday and LSU lost to Arkansas on Saturday, the Cardinal found themselves in good shape.

Unless Wisconsin hurdles Stanford in the final BCS rankings, the Cardinal should finish fourth. That would invoke a BCS rule that requires an AQ team that does not win its league to receive an at-large berth if it finishes ranked No. 3 or No. 4.

If Stanford finishes fourth, it probably is headed to the Orange Bowl to face the ACC champ. The Orange has the penultimate selection, and it is assumed the Fiesta Bowl -- which picks last -- will get stuck with the Big East champ. The Orange got some good news Saturday when N.C. State's loss handed the Atlantic Division title to Florida State. If FSU can beat Virginia Tech for the ACC title, the Orange can expect to sell out. If Virginia Tech wins and goes to its third Orange Bowl in four seasons, the game might not sell out. After all, Virginia Tech played in Sun Life Stadium -- home of the Orange Bowl -- just last week against Miami.

If a program ever needed a win, Notre Dame needed Saturday's 20-16 (RECAP | BOX) win at USC.

Notre Dame needed some good on-field news, and beating the Trojans for the first time since 2001 certainly qualifies. (Notre Dame's off-field woes are an entirely different can of worms. Student video assistant Declan Sullivan's tragic death and the ongoing investigation into a sexual assault claim against a player are far too serious to mix with simple wins and losses.)

Between the lines, the team that lost to Navy and Tulsa needed to keep building on the momentum created by wins against Utah and Army. Notre Dame has fought injuries and ineptitude all season, and a victory in the rain at the L.A. Coliseum was the perfect release for the frustration created by a season in which little seemed to go right.

Saturday, the Irish finally got lucky. Shortly after Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees led a 77-yard touchdown drive to give the Irish the lead, USC quarterback Mitch Mustain -- making his first start since he was an Arkansas freshman in 2006 -- saw Ronald Johnson wide open. Mustain's pass reached its target at the Notre Dame 15-yard line, but Johnson dropped what would have been a sure touchdown. Three plays later, Notre Dame's Harrison Smith picked off Mustain.

"It was about time we caught a break," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

Arkansas certainly made its case Saturday for a BCS at-large spot. The Razorbacks avoided any Mad Hatter Magic in a 31-23 win against LSU (RECAP | BOX), and in the process they took hold of the Sugar Bowl spot LSU had hoped to fill.

Neither team could play its way in Saturday, though. Ultimately, South Carolina and Auburn will decide whether the Razorbacks are eligible for the Sugar Bowl. If Auburn wins the SEC title game, the Tigers will go to the BCS title game, and the Sugar Bowl will be free to take the Razorbacks and a fan base that hasn't enjoyed the gustatory and carnal delights of Rue Bourbon in January since the end of the 1979 season. If South Carolina beats Auburn, the Sugar will be contractually obligated to take the Gamecocks. One-loss Auburn probably would get the SEC's other at-large slot, and Arkansas would be relegated to either the Capital One or Cotton bowl.

The likely opponent for Arkansas or South Carolina is Ohio State, which probably will not get the votes to overtake Wisconsin in the BCS standings.

It might be time for a change in Ann Arbor, but only under certain circumstances.

A 37-7 beatdown (RECAP | BOX) in Columbus proved the gulf between Ohio State and Michigan remains wide, and while the Wolverines got better in Coach Rich Rodriguez's third year, they didn't improve significantly. So is it time for Michigan to jettison Rodriguez?

Maybe.

If Michigan has assurances it can make a slam-dunk hire -- I'm thinking of a certain former Wolverines quarterback who works in Palo Alto -- then athletic director Dave Brandon should make a move. Jim Harbaugh has taken Stanford from 1-11 to the top 10, so the adjustment period required after Michigan scraps the offense most of its players were recruited to run would be acceptable.

If Michigan officials can't get a guarantee that they can land an A-plus coach, they should stick with Rodriguez, fire coordinator Greg Robinson and overhaul the defense. Michigan's offense kept it in games this season, but the defense was historically abysmal. If the offense only remains at its current level and the defense improves to fair-to-middling, the Wolverines can win nine games next year. If the defense climbs to above-average, Michigan might actually compete for a Big Ten title.

I know Michigan fans are fed up with the drama surrounding Rodriguez. They're also fed up with losing -- especially to Ohio State. But this isn't the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater unless the Wolverines can land a man who already has his own custom bathroom.

Michigan State fans didn't really want to root for Michigan on Saturday, but they had no choice. Now, they have even more reason to hate the Wolverines.

The Spartans did their part, clinching a share of the Big Ten title by beating Penn State, 28-22 in State College (RECAP | BOX). But Ohio State's win against Michigan and Wisconsin's win against Northwestern means the Spartans, Buckeyes and Badgers will share the title and the team ranked highest in the BCS standings will go to the Rose Bowl.

Barring a major change in voting tendencies, Wisconsin will be that team. Michigan State beat Wisconsin in its Big Ten opener on Oct. 2, but it lost control of its destiny when it got crushed at Iowa on Oct. 30.

So barring a miracle from from poll voters, the Spartans will be the most under-the-radar, 11-win Big Ten co-champ in history. Wisconsin and Ohio State will play in BCS bowls, and Michigan State will finish its season in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

Next year, there will be no co-champs. The team that wins the Big Ten title game will go to the BCS title game or the Rose Bowl. That will be a year too late for Michigan State.

Congratulations to Coach Derek Dooley and Tennessee for beating Kentucky to earn bowl eligibility (RECAP |BOX).

After the scorched earth that followed Lane Kiffin's hasty exit from Knoxville, a 5-7, 4-8 or even 3-9 season seemed completely plausible. Dooley and his staff didn't let it happen. For that, they should be commended.

Shoot, if Tennessee hadn't tried to use 13 men against LSU, the Vols would be 7-5. Still, it's a good bet anyone in orange will take 6-6.

The flip side of Miami's loss is a huge win for USF and first-year coach Skip Holtz. Holtz didn't inherit much of a team from Jim Leavitt, and the Bulls already had exceeded expectations before they crossed the Dade County line. This win runs USF's record to 7-4, and the Bulls can grab win No. 8 and possibly affect the Big East title race by beating Connecticut next week in Tampa.

USF now has beaten two of Florida's "big three" after winning at Florida State last year and at Miami on Saturday. The Bulls lost at Florida on Sept. 11 in their only game against the Gators. Holtz has won everywhere he has been, and he recruited well given a very limited time and a small class this past winter.

In fact, a player the Bulls added in March helped them to their historic win Saturday. Freshman walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld replaced B.J. Daniels -- who has been hampered by a thigh injury -- to start the second half. Eveld scored on a one-yard touchdown run with two minutes remaining to force overtime, and after the Bulls' defense held Miami to a field goal, Eveld hit Joel Miller -- the player involved in the incident that got previous coach Jim Leavitt fired -- for an eight-yard gain to set up Demetris Murray's game-winning one-yard plunge.

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