His team had just finished throttling undefeated, third-ranked Stanford, yet Oregon receiver Josh Huff stood outside his locker room Saturday evening answering questions about another game: the Ducks' season-opening 40-27 loss to LSU.
"It was a much closer game than you might imagine," Huff recalled. "We gave them 21 points. Hopefully, we'd be able to get a rematch with them."
And so it begins. Following an unexpectedly eventful Saturday in which TCU stunned undefeated Boise State on the blue turf and Huff's Ducks humbled Andrew Luck and Co., 53-30, on the Cardinal's overgrown turf, the R-word is suddenly back on the tip of every tongue.
We thought we'd moved past the possibility following the Nov. 5 LSU-Alabama field-goal-a-thon, which, while reinforcing the teams' defensive dominance, did not exactly spark desire for a second rendition. Yet just eight days later, the No. 3 and 4 spots in the BCS standings belong to two LSU victims, the Tide and the Ducks (both 9-1), leaving us one upset away from a possible January rematch involving the Tigers.
Before we go any further, it should be noted that No. 2 Oklahoma State, now 10-0, has shown no sign of cracking. On Saturday, Brandon Weeden and Co. went to Lubbock, Texas, and staged a 66-6 demolition. Remember, this is the same Texas Tech team that beat then third-ranked Oklahoma three weeks ago. (The Red Raiders haven't won since, getting outscored 159-33. Figure that one out.)
The Cowboys are averaging 51.7 points per game and lead the nation in turnovers forced (34) and turnover margin (plus-18). They visit 5-4 Iowa State on Friday night, then enjoy a bye before Bedlam. "We've got something special going on," said Weeden.
An LSU-Oklahoma State showdown would be both satisfying and intriguing. Having only two undefeated major-conference teams would give us a rare controversy-free year (no disrespect, Houston). It would also set up a compelling matchup between Oklahoma State's high-wire offense and LSU's smothering defense.
But come on. This is the BCS. Why wait when we can waste so much mental energy speculating about the contingencies? What's amazing is that every season seems to provide a new, previously unimagined nightmare scenario. One year it involves a slew of two-loss teams, another year an unsolvable divisional tiebreaker. This year the great debate could center on rematches.
Which would you rather see again, LSU-Oregon or LSU-Alabama? The answer for most of us is: neither. Give us something new. But with Stanford's and Boise State's losses, we're running out of alternatives, and the contenders have three weeks to state their cases.
"We played LSU better than anyone," said Oregon freshman De'Anthony Thomas, whose fumbles on consecutive third-quarter touches in his college debut helped the Tigers blow open an otherwise even matchup. (The Ducks had 335 yards of offense to LSU's 273 that night in Dallas.) Oregon has unquestionably improved considerably since Sept. 3, but it's hard to concur with Thomas when Alabama took the Tigers to overtime just last week.
On Saturday, though, the third-ranked Tide played right into the hands of those who suggested the 9-6 "Game of the Century" was as much a byproduct of limited offense as it was great defense. Nick Saban's clearly sluggish team led mediocre Mississippi State just 10-0 heading into the fourth quarter of an eventual 24-7 victory. Of course, Alabama doesn't need many points when it holds the opposition to 131 total yards.
The "which rematch?" debate may be moot since Alabama already sits above Oregon in both the polls and computers, though the Ducks face another ranked foe next week when No. 18 USC (8-2) visits Eugene. 'Bama has Georgia Southern next week, then the Iron Bowl against reeling Auburn (6-4). The Ducks will also get an additional game -- the Pac-12 championship -- if they keep winning. But will it be enough?
"Not likely, unless the voters decide to [elevate Oregon]," said CollegeBCS.com analyst Jerry Palm. "They'd have to change their mind. Alabama is going to be a better computer team at 11-1 than Oregon even at 12-1. I think if you seen any voter movement, it would be for Oklahoma."
Ah yes, the Sooners. No. 5 Oklahoma is perhaps the only other contender that could prevent a rematch, though it's unclear whether the Sooners would be any more popular. Beating 11-0 Oklahoma State on the road on the final night of the season would be an incredibly persuasive last impression, and Bob Stoops would undoubtedly come equipped with talking points to the postgame press conference. Detractors: You lost at home to Texas Tech. Stoops: We beat three ranked teams on the road (Florida State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) and finished first in what every computer ranking says is the toughest conference.
"If Oklahoma wins on that last day, beating the No. 2 team in the country, I don't think people will care that they lost to Texas Tech," said Palm. "I think they'll care they haven't played LSU."
And finally, there's the scenario that would blow this whole thing to smithereens: LSU losing to Arkansas (9-1) on Black Friday. The No. 6 Razorbacks have won three of the past four meetings with the Tigers. If that were to happen, the SEC's convoluted tiebreaker might just send Alabama to Atlanta; and with a victory there, the Tide might find themselves headed to New Orleans, in which case LSU would be the team arguing it deserves another shot.
LSU and Oklahoma State can take care of business and make this thing easy for all of us. Failing that, get ready for The Great Rematch Debate. The former sure sounds more appealing, but those who detest the BCS and hope for as much chaos as possible may well prefer the latter.
Kellen Moore already owns more victories (46) than any starting quarterback in FBS history, and he will finish his career as one of the most accomplished to ever play the position. He may also go down as the most snakebit.
For the second straight year, a missed last-second field goal -- this time redshirt freshman kicker Dan Goodale's 39-yard attempt on the final play against TCU (8-2) -- cost Boise State not only a shot at the national championship but, most likely, a BCS bowl bid. The Broncos hadn't lost at home in the regular season in a decade, and though the Horned Frogs are the defending Rose Bowl champions and soon-to-be Big 12 members, their 36-35 upset on the blue turf was still stunning.
"We didn't shock the world," TCU linebacker Tank Carder tweeted afterward. "We just reminded them."
Boise State fans were cruelly reminded of last year's heartbreaker at Nevada, in which senior kicker Kyle Brotzman's missed 26-yard field goal sent the game to overtime, where the Wolf Pack proceeded to crush Boise's hopes of a second straight undefeated season. Goodale's kick Saturday wasn't nearly the same chip shot, but his miss had the same ramifications.
However, it would be unfair to pin the result solely on Goodale's shoulders, as TCU outplayed Boise the whole way. Quarterback Casey Pachall torched the Broncos' secondary for first half touchdowns of 74, 75 and 69 yards en route to a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns. Third-string tailback Drew Wright's fumble with 2:26 left set up the Frogs for their go-ahead drive, in which Pachall threw a 25-yard touchdown to Brandon Carter, then completed a two-point conversion pass to Josh Boyce to go up 36-35. And while Moore had another solid day (28-of-38 for 320 yards and two touchdowns), he threw four straight incompletions to start Boise's final drive, with a questionable pass-interference call bailing him out on fourth-and-10 from the 50.
"It's a feeling similar to the feeling last year," said Broncos defensive end Tyrone Crawford. "It sucks."
Boise's loss is Houston's gain. Case Keenum and the 11th-ranked Cougars (10-0) now stand to clinch a BCS at-large berth if they win out, though it should be noted that Houston's opponents to date are a combined 32-52. The Cougars close with 6-4 SMU, 7-3 Tulsa (tied with Houston at 6-0 in Conference USA's West Division) and, if they win those, a likely conference title date with No. 20 Southern Miss (9-1). They'll need to win out to get the bid.
Should the Cougars slip, the Broncos, who fell to 10th in the BCS standings, can still finish high enough to qualify for a berth, but only the highest-ranked champion of a non-AQ league is guaranteed a spot. TCU -- which has now won 22 straight Mountain West games -- is all but assured of winning that league.
Houston: The floor is yours.
As the outrage intensified last week over Penn State officials' failure to report (and prevent future incidents) former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of children, a common reaction emerged: How could those at the school be so tone deaf?
From now-ousted president Graham Spanier's "unconditional support" of two administrators accused of failing to alert police, to Joe Paterno's nominal acceptance of responsibility, to the misguided students shouting "Beat Nebraska" on Paterno's lawn, the nation came to see a coaching staff and community so isolated from reality that protecting JoePa and his program took precedence over protecting the innocent children subjected to those heinous crimes. The narrative finally began to change last Friday, when students held a candlelight vigil for the victims, and Saturday, when they wore blue T-shirts and raised more than $22,500 outside the stadium to honor victims of child abuse. In a touching moment, Penn State and Nebraska players joined in prayer at midfield shortly before kickoff. Still, most of the conversation on game day was about the "distractions" and whether the players would be focused.
Football coaches in general live in a near constant state of tunnel vision, spending 100-hour weeks in film rooms, meetings and practices and thus largely isolated from the outside world. A meteor could strike the parking lot outside the football facility and most coaches would still be pondering blitz schemes. Therefore it came as a heartening and refreshing surprise when Nebraska's Bo Pelini wound up delivering an eloquent soliloquy following the Huskers' 17-14 win over the Nittany Lions that demonstrated the type of perspective so lacking for much of the previous week.
"I'll be honest with you -- going into the football game, I didn't think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons," said Pelini. "I look at my job as a football coach as to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life. That's what we are; we are a university system. I thought that this game gave us an opportunity to show that the situation going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the football game that was just played. It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it, had they called it off."
"It's about doing what's right in society," Pelini added. "It's about doing what's right and wrong. Trust me, when I tell you, I don't know the specifics of the situation and I am not judging anybody. But the fact is young kids were hurt and that's a crime in itself. It is a lot bigger than football, the NCAA, the Big Ten and anything else."
Pelini continued from there.
I don't think the game should have been canceled, but that's not the point. Pelini could have brushed off the questioner with a requisite nod to the situation and some typical coachspeak. He didn't. He used his platform to make a powerful statement about the place of sports in society and the larger, extremely troubling issue at the center of the Penn State story. He didn't point fingers, like so many of us have done. He offered heartfelt insight on what it's like to be a football coach thrust into a horrific situation that in this case involves a football program, but is far more important than football.
Of course, that's not stopping me from writing this 4,000-word column about football, or you from reading it. The teams carry on with their seasons, and we carry on with our lives. But everyone who's followed this story has been affected. Hopefully they've also become better educated about an important issue. I know I have.
My reaction to the latest AP and Coaches' polls:
Overrated: Houston (AP: No. 11, Coaches': No. 10)
Sorry to be a party pooper, but this feels a lot like Hawaii in 2007, rising by default while playing a dismal schedule. I'd argue No. 12 Michigan State (8-2) has accomplished more.
Underrated: USC (AP: No. 18, Coaches': Ineligible)
The Trojans (8-2) just keep getting better. Since losing to Stanford in triple overtime, they've demolished Colorado (42-17) and Washington (40-17) behind an underrated defense.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: LSU vs. Oklahoma StateRose: Oregon vs. WisconsinFiesta: Oklahoma vs. StanfordSugar: Alabama vs. HoustonOrange: Clemson vs. Cincinnati
Complete bowl projections
So if Houston winds up in the BCS, where will it play? The Fiesta Bowl would have first choice, but while it's hosted Utah, Boise State and TCU in recent years, it's likely to go for the highest-ranked team available. Stanford, if it wins out, would be that team. The Sugar Bowl would then have a wholly unappealing choice between the Cougars, who to this point have yet to capture the nation's attention (that might change when GameDay visits this week), or the Big East champion, which is Cincinnati in this projection. Since the Sugar just hosted the Bearcats two years ago, Houston would be the choice, pitting the Cougars against an SEC foe. It would be the Sugar's third such matchup in five years (Georgia-Hawaii in 2008 and Alabama-Utah in '09).
As for the Orange Bowl, it must surely be rooting for Clemson to emerge as ACC champ over Virginia Tech, which has played there three times in four years and drawn headlines annually for how much money it's lost on unsold tickets. Meanwhile, Oklahoma would hardly be thrilled with its fourth trip to Glendale in six years, which is why the Big 12-affiliated Fiesta must be pulling for Oklahoma State to beat the Sooners and for 8-2 Kansas State to win out.
• As expected, it appears Jordan Jefferson has regained his role as No. 1 LSU's primary quarterback. The formerly suspended senior started and accounted for 188 yards in the Tigers' 42-9 win over Western Kentucky, a game LSU led only 14-7 at the half. Jarrett Lee did not make an appearance until the fourth quarter. "We thought we might go with Lee a little earlier than that, but Western Kentucky kind of proved to throw some wrinkles at us that we didn't necessarily anticipate," said Les Miles.
• Saturday was a good day for Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten). The Badgers' 42-13 win over Minnesota coupled with Nebraska's win over Penn State and Purdue's upset of Ohio State means Bret Bielma's team regained control of its destiny in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. The Badgers stand a game behind the Nittany Lions but face them Nov. 26. Quarterback Russell Wilson was nearly perfect (16-of-17), while running back Montee Ball broke a Big Ten record with his 27th touchdown.
• The Legends side of the conference is more clear-cut: Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) remains alone in first following a 37-21 win at Iowa and has a favorable remaining schedule against Indiana (1-9) and Northwestern (5-5). Meanwhile, the winner of Saturday's Nebraska-Michigan game could conceivably finish 10-2 but not reach the conference title game, making it very appealing for a BCS berth. The Wolverines' defense shut down Illinois 31-14, handing the Illini (6-4) their fourth straight loss.
• Barring a collapse next week against Kentucky, No. 13 Georgia (8-2) is heading to the SEC championship game for the first time in six years, and it will do so with some serious momentum. The Dawgs annihilated Auburn (6-4) 45-7 on Saturday, thanks to quarterback Aaron Murray's finest performance to date (14-of-18 for 224 yards and four touchdowns). Georgia outgained the defending national champs 528-195. "Hopefully we made a statement with this game," said safety Bacarri Rambo.
• Those still expecting Clemson to eventually "Clemson" itself will just have to keep waiting. The seventh-ranked Tigers (9-1) survived a scare from Wake Forest (5-5) to win 31-28 despite quarterback Tajh Boyd throwing two interceptions. In the final seconds, Boyd completed a 40-yard pass to Adam Humphries to set up Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning 43-yard field goal, which clinched the ACC Atlantic. "We're the best in the division," said coach Dabo Swinney, "But we've got other goals."
• Meanwhile, No. 9 Virginia Tech (9-1, 5-1 ACC) took control of the Coastal side with its 37-26 win over Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3) last Thursday. Hokies running back David Wilson had a career-high 175 yards, his ninth 100-yard game this season. He broke 16 tackles to gain 133 yards after contact. The game turned, however, when Jackets linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu punched Logan Thomas on a third-and-19 sack in the third quarter. Given new life, the Hokies drove for a go-ahead score.
• You'd be hard-pressed to find a more valuable player to his team than Kansas State's Collin Klein. The quarterback threw for 281 yards, rushed for 103 and accounted for six touchdowns as the Wildcats (8-2) outlasted Texas A&M, 53-50 in four overtimes. No. 16 K-State has now won three games by three points or less and took No. 2 Oklahoma State to the wire last week. "There were some big ups and downs [Saturday]," said Klein, "but there have been some big ups and downs all year."
• It doesn't get stranger than the Pac-12 South where, on Saturday, Washington State (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) stunned Arizona State (6-4, 4-3), 37-27, behind 494 yards and four touchdowns from freshman quarterback Connor Halliday. He hadn't played since Week 2. Meanwhile, Utah (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) stomped UCLA, 31-6. With USC ineligible, either UCLA, ASU or Utah will reach the Pac-12 title game, and the Bruins still hold the tiebreaker. A 6-6 division champ is not out of the question.
• Missouri's 17-5 upset of Texas (6-3) showed just how dependent the Longhorns had become on their running game. Freshmen tailbacks Malcolm Brown (turf toe) and Joe Bergeron (hamstring) were already out, and senior Fozzy Whitaker went down with a season-ending knee injury. As a result, the 'Horns managed just 76 rushing yards a week after putting up 441 on Kansas. The Tigers (5-5) feel their pain: Star rusher Henry Josey suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game as well.
• West Virginia knocked off Cincinnati on Saturday, 24-21, when WVU's Eain Smith blocked Bearcats kicker Tony Miliano's 31-yard attempt with no time remaining. However, with Pittsburgh's subsequent win over Louisville, now-unranked Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1) remains alone in first in the Big East, a half-game above four other teams. Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros suffered a season-ending ankle injury, so their BCS hopes now ride on the arm of sophomore Munchie Legaux.
• Embattled Kansas coach Turner Gill cannot catch a break. Even after Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a 24-3 deficit, the Jayhawks (2-8) still had a chance to win, scoring a touchdown in overtime to answer Baylor's, at which point Gill -- like his former coach Tom Osborne in the 1984 Orange Bowl -- chose to go for two. And just like then-Nebraska quarterback Gill against Miami, KU quarterback Jordan Webb's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
• Following a 49-7 rout by No. 6 Arkansas that sent the Vols to their first 0-6 SEC start, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley had this to say: "This is like we're in advanced school, football school of beatdown learning."
• Congratulations are in order to Colorado (2-9) for its first Pac-12 win (48-29 over Arizona) and to New Mexico for its first win in more than a year (21-14 over UNLV).
• Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu predicted before the season he'd catch 100 passes. He's already up to 94, surpassing Larry Fitzgerald's Big East record of 92.
• Toledo scored 60 and 66, points, respectively, in its past two games. Thankfully, by holding Western Michigan to 63 last Tuesday, it came away with a split.
Andrew Luck was considered this season's Heisman favorite from the day he announced he was returning to Stanford, and as the season went on, his expected coronation seemed to become more and more inevitable.
Luck probably could have survived a loss to Oregon with his frontrunner status intact, but not after playing so poorly in a lopsided defeat. Playing without his two fastest targets, receiver Chris Owusu and tight end Zach Ertz, Luck was shaky and hesitant most of the night as his receivers struggled to get open and Oregon's defensive front consistently pressured him. He telegraphed an interception to linebacker DeWitt Stuckey, lost a fumble on a sack and threw a pick-six in the waning moments, albeit on a bobble by his receiver, Ty Montgomery. Stanford lacks the type of receivers to stretch the field, and Luck was relegated mostly to throwing crossing patterns and other underneath throws. He finished 27-of-41 for 271 yards, three touchdowns and two picks.
Luck's "worst game of the year, I guess," as he called it, should hardly eliminate him from consideration. He's still the nation's fifth-rated passer. But it would be hard to logically argue at this point that the fourth-year junior, who's beaten one formidable foe all season (USC), has been the "most outstanding player" in the country.
But who has been? Suddenly, the field is incredibly wide-open for such a late juncture in the season, filled with a bunch of quality candidates one could argue both for and against. They include Houston's Case Keenum (ridiculous numbers but against weak competition), Alabama's Trent Richardson (passes the eye test but couldn't get his team in the end zone against LSU), Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (on pace to throw for well over 4,000 yards but also double-digit interceptions), Wisconsin's Russell Wilson (on pace to break the NCAA pass efficiency record but lost his two biggest road games), Baylor's Robert Griffin III (still putting up phenomenal stats but for a 6-3 team) and Boise State's Kellen Moore (his hopes probably went out the door against TCU).
The list goes on and on: Virginia Tech's David Wilson leads the nation in rushing yards (1,360) but only has seven touchdowns; Oregon's LaMichael James is tops in yards per game (150.9) but missed two contests; Wisconsin's Montee Ball is a touchdown machine (27) but gets overshadowed by Wilson; and how do you choose between Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins?
In recent years, the national championship race and Heisman race have become increasingly intertwined, but No. 1 LSU lacks an obvious candidate. (Sorry, Honey Badger.) That leaves Richardson and Weeden with the best shot to make a statement down the stretch, while Luck will get a chance to redeem himself with a primetime game against Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend. Expect a push for Keenum in the coming weeks, too. There are a lot of great players out there, but no one who yet qualifies as "most outstanding."
For nearly a century, Georgia Tech's famous 222-0 victory over Cumberland in 1916 has held a mystical place in college football lore. No team has ever come close to matching it, and in fact two teams have never come close to combining for that many points.
On Saturday, however, NAIA schools Faulkner (Ala.) and Union (Ky.) gave it their best shot. In what's believed to be the highest-scoring college football game since that historic day, Faulkner outlasted Union, 95-89, in triple overtime.
In a game that was tied 75-75 after regulation, Faulkner quarterback Josh Hollingsworth threw for an NAIA-record 637 yards and seven touchdowns, including a go-ahead score in the top half of the third overtime. Ultimately, however, the game was decided on a defensive stop, when a gang of Faulkner tacklers stuffed Union running back Rob Brown on fourth-and-2.
It was both Faulkner's Homecoming game and its season finale.
"We struggled so much defensively today, and all season, but our guys stepped up when we had to have it on that last drive in overtime," said Faulkner coach Gregg Baker. "It's been a tough season. It didn't turn out like we wanted but it ended the way we wanted it to."
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
• USC at Oregon, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): USC's defense has improved considerably this season, but the Ducks' unconventional offense proved to be NFL guru Monte Kiffin's Kryptonite last year. Meanwhile, the Ducks will have to deal with the most talented opposing receiving corps they've seen.
• Nebraska at Michigan, Saturday (Noon ET): When Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson first burst on to the scene, we salivated at the thought of them playing on the same field. But Martinez is no longer a game-breaking runner and Robinson is banged up. Defenses will probably play a bigger role than the QBs.
• Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Saturday (7 p.m. ET): It's history, folks: The Commodores are favored over the Vols, for a game in Knoxville. Vandy needs a win to get bowl-eligible; Tennessee needs a win because it's 0-6 in the SEC. It's James Franklin's biggest game to date, and probably Derek Dooley's, too. Seriously.