Longhorns, Gators fail to impress, but still control destinies

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DALLAS -- Though his team had largely limped its way through a mistake-littered, 16-13 win over injury-ravaged rival Oklahoma, Texas coach Mack Brown was the picture of positivity while speaking with reporters Saturday afternoon.

"Our guys continue to come from behind and win close games," said Brown, whose team has in fact won 15 of its past 16 games decided by three points or less. "I don't think anyone in the locker room [at halftime] thought we were going to lose the game."

Roughly three hours later and one time zone east, the tone was decidedly different in Gainesville, where No. 1 Florida had just survived its own scare, a 23-20 win over Arkansas decided on Caleb Sturgis' last-second field goal.

A "bad day overall," was how Tim Tebow described it. "I'm not happy where we are right now," groused Urban Meyer.

Halfway through the season, the nation's consensus preseason national title favorites both remain undefeated, but neither has been the type of overpowering behemoths many envisioned. Specifically, the Gators' and Longhorns' offenses aren't nearly the fine-tuned machines they were a year ago, which has eroded some public confidence. On Sunday, AP voters moved 7-0 Alabama -- thus-far untouched by anyone -- to the top of their poll, while the Tide sat between No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Texas in the first BCS standings released Sunday.

Technically speaking, it's all a formality. All three still control their own BCS destinies, since the two SEC powers would ultimately face one another in a conference-title elimination game should they win their preceding games.

The question is, do you still believe Florida and Texas will make it to December undefeated?

In the Gators' case, my answer remains "yes." The schedule is a big reason why. As I first suggested last week, Arkansas was probably Florida's toughest remaining opponent. But more than that, Meyer's team played as badly as it could against the Razorbacks -- committing four turnovers, including two in the red zone, allowing six sacks, and suffering uncharacteristic defensive lapses -- yet still came away victorious. They did so in large part because of Tebow, who, to the surprise of absolutely no one, led fourth-quarter scoring drives of 67 and 69 yards.

Admittedly, much the same thing could be said about Texas' performance against Oklahoma. The Longhorns had three turnovers, allowed four sacks, accrued 11 penalties -- and still won.

The big difference, however, is that unlike Tebow, Colt McCoy is not the same player he was a year ago. After Oklahoma's blitzers came after him early, McCoy became visibly frustrated. He misfired repeatedly, even when protected. Though he settled down in the second to lead three scoring drives, he later threw a mind-numbing interception to Oklahoma's Brian Jackson that could have cost Texas the game.

It's been that way much of this season. The same player who threw 34 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions last year now sports an 11-to-7 ratio. He clearly misses departed receiver Quan Cosby, especially when defenses blanket Jordan Shipley like Oklahoma did. Freshman Marquise Goodwin stepped up with some big plays Saturday, but it's too soon to say whether he'll remain a consistent threat.

With the Big 12 crumbling to pieces, Texas, like Florida, won't face too many formidable remaining challengers. However, the 'Horns still visit No. 14 Oklahoma State on Halloween night in the game most likely to resemble last year's Texas Tech trap.

Should either the Gators or 'Horns ultimately endure a scare they can't overcome, there are no shortage of teams itching to take their place.

Unlike a year ago, when USC lost a September game to Oregon State, then found itself frozen out of the title picture the rest of the season, the 5-1 Trojans vaulted back up to fourth in the polls following their own near-scare Saturday at Notre Dame. USC has improved considerably since its Sept. 19 Washington loss, most notably at quarterback, where freshman Matt Barkley rolled into South Bend and racked up 380 passing yards. The Trojans' normally stout defense let down its guard against the Irish after going up 34-14, but fended off three last-second Jimmy Clausen shots at the end zone.

However, when the first BCS standings were revealed Sunday, USC came in a distant seventh. The computers don't take so kindly to that Washington loss, placing undefeated squads Boise State, Cincinnati and Iowa ahead of USC.

Of the three, the upstart Bearcats may have the most realistic shot at sneaking into the top two. Two nights before Florida, Texas and USC all got taken to the wire by inferior foes, Brian Kelly's team visited then 5-0 South Florida in its jacked-up stadium and cruised to a 34-17 win. Even a game-ending wrist injury to star quarterback Tony Pike couldn't faze the Bearcats. Mobile backup Zach Callaros came in and promptly dashed for a 75-yard touchdown run.

If Cincy continues winning, critics will point to its weak Big East schedule, but it certainly helps perception-wise that future opponents Pittsburgh (6-1) and West Virginia (5-1) both entered the Top 25 this week.

Boise State's case is even trickier. Based on the current pecking order, the 6-0 Broncos -- No. 4 in the BCS standings -- theoretically sit one Texas loss away from playing for the national title (again, based on the Florida-Alabama elimination factor). More realistically, however, they've probably hit their ceiling because their schedule strength is about to get heavily diluted.

Iowa, meanwhile, is the most un-talked about 7-0 team in the country. For the second time in as many Big Ten road games, the Hawkeyes rallied from a 10-0 deficit to win going away. They visit Michigan State next weekend and suddenly vulnerable Ohio State on Nov. 14. It says something about the Big Ten's respect level right now that the Hawkeyes sit behind both a WAC and Big East team (albeit by a .0001 margin).

All three, however, must bide their time, keep winning, and hope that one or more of the "Big Three" go down. My guess is Texas will be the first to fall.

I'd like to take a moment to express the deepest sympathies to the family, friends, coaches and teammates of slain Connecticut cornerback Jasper Howard, whose fatal stabbing early Sunday morning following a school-sponsored dance on campus stunned the football world. Earlier that same day, Howard had made 11 tackles and forced a fumble in the Huskies' win over Louisville.

I can't even begin to imagine what coach Randy Edsall and his team are going through right now. This picture from the Hartford Courant pretty much says it all.

On a weekend in which so many Heisman candidates failed to impress, Alabama running back Mark Ingram inserted himself into the thick of the race in dazzling fashion Saturday night against South Carolina. Not since Darren McFadden's days at Arkansas have I seen a running back so singlehandedly dominate a game. At times it seemed like Ingram was the only player on the field.

With quarterback Greg McElroy struggling for a second straight week, Alabama's sophomore tailback carried 24 times for 248 yards and a touchdown in the Crimson Tide's 20-6 win over the Gamecocks. It marked the biggest rushing game ever posted by an Alabama player in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

On Alabama's game-sealing touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter, Ingram carried the ball on all six plays -- the first five coming on direct snaps -- and averaged 11.3 yards per carry.

"Mark did as fine a job today as anybody I've ever been around, and that includes Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and some really good ones,'' said Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Ingram wasn't exactly a secret coming in. Despite sometimes sharing the load with freshman standout Trent Richardson, the sophomore entered Saturday ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing. But Saturday night's showcase was on a whole other level. He ran hard, he ran fast and he shook off tacklers like they were flies. ESPN noted he gained nearly half his yards after contact.

Saban threw out some pretty big names in his comparison. I'll continue with mine. Perhaps because of all those direct snaps, but more because of the surprising level of speed from a purported power back, Ingram reminds me very much of McFadden, who, as you may recall, was a two-time Heisman runner-up.

My reaction to the first BCS standings.

One thing I've always noticed about the BCS computers (which account for one-third of the standings) is that the quality of your losses matter almost as much as the wins. Case in point: USC and Oregon. The Trojans rank fourth in the human polls but just 10th in the computers due largely to the fact they lost to a 3-4 Washington team. The Ducks, meanwhile, are five spots higher among the computers (ninth) than the voters (12th in Harris, 14th in computers). It's no coincidence that their setback came against undefeated Boise State.

My guess is that if USC wins at Oregon in two weeks, the Trojans will pass Boise State and Cincinnati. They're not that far behind as it is, and they have more ground they can make up in the computers. Which leads us to ...

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.

Title game: Alabama vs. USC

Rose: Iowa vs. Boise State

Fiesta: Texas vs. Georgia Tech

Sugar: Florida vs. Cincinnati

Orange: Miami vs. Penn State

If Texas makes it through the next two weeks unscathed, I'll rethink my title-game projection. And of course if USC loses to Oregon, I'll have no choice. Meanwhile, should the ACC Coastal wind up a three-way tie (Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami are all 1-1 against each other), the 'Canes now stand to win the tiebreaker due to their higher spot in the BCS standings -- and you know Miami-Penn State would be a dream matchup for the Orange Bowl.

• It would be easy to pile on Terrelle Pryor, who turned the ball over four times in Ohio State's ugly loss at Purdue, but his offensive supporting cast has been equally unimpressive. Pryor is the closest thing to a game-breaker in that lineup. The Buckeyes (5-2) still have a shot at the Big Ten title, but if or when they get eliminated, Jim Tressel ought to think about giving some freshmen a shot.

However, there's nobody waiting in the wings to relieve Pryor, who seems to be regressing by the week. Maybe take a jaunt down I-71 to Cincinnati, where Brian Kelly seems to grow backup quarterbacks on trees.

• LeSean McCoy's early exit to the NFL last winter seemed devastating at the time for Pitt's program. It turns out the Panthers may have upgraded. With his 31-carry, 180-yard night against Rutgers, freshman Dion Lewis rose to No. 3 on the national rushing list. "Dion Lewis is a special football player," said Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt, whose team is 6-1 for the first time in his tenure.

• Another staggering performance by a running back: Boston College sophomore Montel Harris shredded N.C. State for 264 yards and five touchdowns (both school records) in a 52-20 rout. Harris particularly excelled in the Eagles' version of the Wildcat (they call it the "Bazooka"), gaining 167 yards on five direct snaps. Just a week earlier, Virginia Tech held him to 43 yards on 11 carries.

• However, the nation's leading rusher remains Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, who racked up 233 yards on just 20 carries in the Bulldogs' 41-21 rout of San Jose State. He had 194 yards by halftime. Mathews, whose biggest performance to date came Sept. 18 against No. 6 Boise State (234 yards, three TDs), is averaging 162.3 yards per game and a staggering 7.44 yards per carry.

• Earlier signs that ACC defenses were catching on to Georgia Tech's triple-option proved premature. The Yellow Jackets (6-1) rolled up 309 rushing yards in Saturday night's 28-23 upset of Virginia Tech, the most allowed by the Hokies' defense this decade. This on the heels of a 401-yard rushing night against Florida State and a 317-yard rushing day against North Carolina.

• After virtually the entire national media (myself included) jumped on the Nebraska/Ndamukong Suh bandwagon, the Huskers laid an egg against Texas Tech, falling 31-10. We shouldn't have been too surprised, however. The Huskers' offense continues to lag far behind their defense. In 12 quarters against BCS-conference opponents, Nebraska has scored touchdowns in two of them.

• Penn State (6-1) faded into oblivion, and rightfully so, following its Sept. 26 loss to Iowa. (Its two subsequent opponents: Illinois and Eastern Illinois.) But as the Hawkeyes keep winning, that defeat seems less damning, while the Nittany Lions' defense continues to dominate. It blanked Minnesota 20-0 on Saturday while holding star Gophers receiver Eric Decker to just one catch.

• Arizona quarterback Nick Foles (40-of-51, 415 yards, three TDs) outlasted Stanford freshman Andrew Luck (21-of-35, 435 yards, three TDs, one pick) in a 43-38 shootout Saturday night. Luck's stardom has been predicted for some time, but Foles has been a revelation for the 'Cats, which, if not for Washington's "immaculate interception" last week, would be undefeated in the Pac-10.

• Embattled Colorado coach Dan Hawkins got a huge win Saturday when the Buffs (2-4) upset undefeated Kansas 34-30, but now he faces a different criticism: Why didn't he replace his son, quarterback Cody Hawkins, sooner? In his first start of the year, Tyler Hansen (14-of-25, 175 yards) used his scrambling ability to keep plays alive and drew praise from his teammates.

• You've got to admire Kentucky's perseverance. Despite suffering an 0-3 start in SEC play and losing starting quarterback Mike Hartline, the Wildcats traveled to 5-1 Auburn on Saturday and notched their first win over the Tigers since 1966. Sophomore speedster Randall Cobb -- running "the Wildcats' Wildcat" -- broke off a 61-yard run to set up his own winning four-yard score for the 21-14 victory.

• Now that Idaho (6-1) has reached bowl eligibility, it's time to turn our attention to the mighty Temple Owls (4-2). Saturday's 27-13 win over Army gave Al Golden's team its first four-game winning streak since 1985. Lest we get too excited, however, Temple -- which last posted a winning season in 1990 and last reached a bowl game in 1979 -- has beaten four foes with a combined 6-21 record.

• The most stunning score of the day Saturday: Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14. Mind you, the Wildcats -- which led 59-0 by mid-third quarter -- allowed 66 points and 700-plus yards just a week earlier against Texas Tech. Any faith Aggies fans had in second-year coach Mike Sherman just went out the window.

• There won't likely be a next year for Illinois coach Ron Zook, whose 1-5 team hit rock bottom Saturday with a 27-14 loss to Indiana. Quarterback JuiceWilliams regained his starting job only to lose two costly fumbles, and Zook became the rare sitting Big Ten coach to hold both a Rose Bowl ring and a 19-35 record.

• How's this for a night's work: Toledo safety Barry Church made 12 tackles against Northern Illinois, blocked an extra point and blocked the Huskies' game-winning field goal attempt with 37 seconds left to preserve a 20-19 win.

• What is former president George W. Bush doing with his spare time these days? Tossing coins. Bush handled pregame duties at Saturday night's Navy-SMU game in Dallas. He did the same last month at the Cowboys' home opener.

The coffers at Delaware State's athletic department are a bit more flush today, but the Hornets' pride and dignity are presumably in the red after their record dropped from 1-3 to 1-5 ... on the same day.

Last spring, the FCS school took up Michigan's offer for a $550,000 payday game Saturday despite the fact it conflicted with a conference game against North Carolina A&T. When its league, the MEAC, couldn't find a way to reschedule the latter, Delaware State -- operating without an athletic director at the time -- chose to forfeit the A&T game in favor of a trip to the Big House.

To no one's surprise, the Wolverines demolished the Hornets, 63-6. Michigan led 28-0 in the first quarter, 49-3 by halftime and racked up 727 yards of offense. "Michigan played just like they played on the DVDs," said Delaware State coach Al Lavan. "... I was not shocked, but I was surprised at how much the domination was."

In other words, Lavan knowingly led his team into a game he knew it had no chance of winning thanks to his superior's decision to sell them out at the cost of a double-defeat. However, when a reporter from the Grand Rapids Press asked three Hornets players afterward whether they would rather have played their scheduled conference opponent, "they vigorously shook their heads and simultaneously said, 'No.'"

I can't say that's surprising. When you play for a school like Delaware State, the chance to play in front of 100,000-plus at Michigan Stadium undoubtedly seems like a dream come true (with Appalachian State's 2007 upset even providing a glimmer of hope). But whether they realize it or not, they were the unwitting victims of an absolute sham. College athletes are meant to compete, not serve as sacrificial lambs for their school's bean counters.

The Hornets might not be insulted, but I would be if I played for North Carolina A&T. Their players sat at home Saturday as a result of Delaware State's decision, relegated to one less competitive opportunity than their peers.

As an unabashed fan of college over the NFL, I'm always elated whenever a high-profile player puts off the draft to return for another season. This happened to be a particularly big year in that department, what with the "school is cool" decisions by Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Taylor Mays and a quartet of Oklahoma stars.

But after watching the nightmare that's currently unfolding for the Sooners, in particular Bradford, I wouldn't blame any potential high draftee who chooses to bolt school this coming winter.

I'm not sure Oklahoma's quarterback was ever the sure-fire No. 1 pick many analysts projected him to be, but whatever his stock, it is undoubtedly about to plummet due to no fault of his own. The Sooners' beleaguered offensive line couldn't protect him against BYU or Texas, and he paid the price in the form of a twice-injured shoulder. Now, he stands to lose tens of millions of dollars, even if he only falls into the later part of the first round.

NFL teams now have two causes for concern about Bradford: his health, and the fact he will now likely go nearly an entire season without playing. While Bradford's heart was in the right place when he decided to put off surgery to return to action two weeks ago -- he truly believed OU could get back in the Big 12 and national-title pictures -- it proved in hindsight to be an unwise choice professionally.

Bob Stoops got defensive after Saturday's game when asked whether Bradford may have risked re-injury by returning so soon.

"You guys can all debate that," he said. "We were going with good information from the doctors. He understood the entire decision. Sam is a bright young guy. He knows what he wants, and unfortunately it just hasn't worked out very well."

No, it has not. And it's been a sad thing for fans of any school to watch.

With 13 seconds left, the score tied 17-17 and the ball at the 50-yard line, Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson could have told his quarterback to take a knee and head to overtime. Instead, the senior quarterback hurled a game-winning bomb to Chris McGaha in the end zone.


Mini-previews for three of this week's big games.

• Penn State at Michigan, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Michigan Stadium has been a Big House of Horrors for the Nittany Lions, who have not won there since 1996, and the Wolverines present the toughest offense Penn State has yet seen. It could be an interesting duel between quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Tate Forcier.

• Tennessee at Alabama, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Some years, the "Third Saturday in October" gets moved to the Fourth Saturday in October. Blame television. Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton had a breakout day against Georgia but Alabama's top-ranked defense could bring him back to reality.

• TCU at BYU, Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET): This is the game that figures to make or break the Horned Frogs' hopes of an undefeated season. And a decisive win may cause some voters to start thinking about jumping them over Boise State. This is a big game, but unfortunately, it's on Versus. Sorry, DirecTV subscribers.