Saturday was yet another uneventful day at the top of the rankings as the top nine teams in last week's AP poll won by an average margin of 30.5 points (No. 10 Arkansas didn't play). Only No. 8 Clemson (7-0), which rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Maryland 56-45, was in danger of losing in the fourth quarter. It looked more like a Saturday in early September, when the big boys are feasting on FCS and directional schools, than mid-October, the heart of conference play.
But it's been this way throughout an unusually upset-free season. Exactly halfway through a 14-week season, eight of the top 10 teams in the preseason coaches poll are still there, seven of them still undefeated. Contrast that to a year ago, when the No. 1 team in the polls lost on three consecutive October weekends.
The closest thing to upheaval Saturday was Virginia's 24-21 upset of No. 12 Georgia Tech. It barely moved the needle. The Yellow Jackets were one of three undefeated teams, along with No. 11 Michigan (vs. No. 23 Michigan State) and No. 16 Illinois (against Ohio State), to go down. All that did was confirm just how much separation there is at the top.
Right now it seems the nation is in a holding pattern, biding time until the Nov. 5 showdown between BCS No. 1 LSU (7-0) and No. 2 Alabama (7-0). In fact the season could have an unofficial plus-one bracket if No. 3 Oklahoma (6-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma State (6-0) manage to run the table all the way to the Dec. 3 Bedlam game.
Even one of the participants acknowledges the hierarchy.
"In my opinion, there are three teams in the country [Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma] that are really, really good," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after his team's 38-26 win at Texas. "And then there are six or seven others who could probably win on any given field on any given day if they took care of the football and didn't give up big plays."
Some of the teams in Gundy's second category might take exception to their classification. Like, say, BCS No. 5 Boise State (6-0), which drubbed Colorado State 63-13 on Saturday, marking its second straight road win by at least 50 points. Or No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0), which routed Indiana 59-7 (a year after beating the Hoosiers 83-20) and has now won all six of its games by at least 31 points. Or No. 8 Stanford (6-0), which, with a 44-14 win at Washington State, has now won 14 straight dating to last season, the past nine by at least 25 points.
The problem is, those teams have played few, if any, marquee opponents and won't have many opportunities going forward due to the lack of depth in their respective conferences. Hence, they must wait and hope one of the SEC or Oklahoma schools goes down.
But they're not the only ones that could use an upset or two. It goes for the rest of us, too.
College football is always more fun when there's week-to-week upheaval. Looking at the schedules of the aforementioned teams, it's hard to find many realistic possibilities, but then, there were also 10 undefeated teams this week a year ago, a list that eventually whittled down to three.
Russell Wilson and the Badgers face a legitimate road test Saturday at BCS No. 16 Michigan State, the only team to beat Wisconsin in the 2010 regular season. The Spartans' second-ranked defense is the real deal, notching seven sacks in their 28-14 win over Michigan and holding Denard Robinson to 159 total yards. As SI.com's Andy Staples wrote from East Lansing, the Spartans toe the line between aggressive and unsportsmanlike, which makes for a nasty defense but could also cost Michigan State big time this week if the Big Ten suspends star defensive end William Gholston for his antics against the Wolverines.
Michigan State may be the rare defense capable of slowing down both Wilson and Wisconsin's rushing attack. But if the Badgers roll over Sparty like they have everyone else, it's hard to believe Ohio State or Penn State will have much better luck.
Much like Wisconsin, Andrew Luck and Stanford keep methodically pummeling people with a physical, balanced attack, but none of the Cardinal's six victims to date currently boast a winning record. That changes this week when BCS No. 25 Washington (5-1) comes to Palo Alto, though the Huskies' mediocre defense will be hard-pressed to slow down Luck. Stanford's season will likely come down to two big games, Nov. 12 against No. 10 Oregon (5-1) and Nov. 26 against Notre Dame (4-2).
Gundy's professed Big Three all have more quality wins to date and more big games ahead before their really big games. While LSU is indisputably better than Auburn (5-2) this year, it can't afford to sleepwalk through next week's game in Baton Rouge. Alabama visits its nemesis for an Iron Bowl revenge date on Nov. 26. And Oklahoma may face another undefeated team in two weeks when it visits upstart Kansas State (6-0).
The first half of the season was severely lacking in sizzle. Either the upsets start sprouting and make this thing more interesting, or we all sit back and wait for Nov. 5 and Dec. 3.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has had better weeks.
Last Tuesday, oft-troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had recently lost his starting job, was dismissed from the team. Spurrier curiously attempted to deflect the news by choosing that of all days to publicly address a long-standing grievance with local columnist Ron Morris of The State over a story he wrote months earlier, which Spurrier claimed was "fabricated." In a clearly pre-scripted show, the coach walked out of his weekly news conference, claiming Morris "is a negative guy who tries to hurt our football program" and "I'm not going to talk when he's in here."
Never mind that Garcia -- and more so Spurrier's five-year coddling of the troubled quarterback -- created far more negativity for his program than anything a columnist could write. That news didn't come out until after the press conference.
But neither Garcia's dismissal nor the coach's media spat will have nearly the same impact as the devastating season-ending knee injury star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered Saturday while making a block against Mississippi State. The uber-talented sophomore had just reached 2,000 career yards earlier in the game and was averaging 129.8 yards on the season coming into Saturday. South Carolina eked out a 14-12 victory over the 3-4 Bulldogs when Alshon Jeffery leapt over two Mississippi State defenders in the end zone to catch a go-ahead touchdown with 3:50 remaining.
Without their one bedrock of consistency, it's hard to imagine the already erratic Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1 SEC) hanging on to win the SEC East. But there's really only one other feasible candidate, Georgia (5-2, 4-1), currently tied atop the division with South Carolina. The Bulldogs have no margin for error because the Gamecocks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, but they do play a more favorable schedule. Both teams face reeling Florida (4-3, 2-3), but South Carolina's other two games are on the road against Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) and No. 10 Arkansas (5-1, 1-1), while Mark Richt's team gets Auburn (5-2, 3-1) and Kentucky (2-4, 0-3) at home.
It took everything in its power for Georgia to survive Saturday at Vanderbilt, 33-28, after which defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly ignited a brawl with his buffoonish tantrum at Commodores head coach James Franklin. The Dawgs clearly aren't a juggernaut yet but they have won five straight.
After two years of mostly bad news, things appear to be looking up for Richt's program, whereas Spurrier's is bleeding bad news -- none of which is anyone is making up.
Late Saturday night, a Twitter follower asked me a vexing question: Who is the more explosive freshman, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas or Clemson's Sammy Watkins? Is there really a correct answer to that?
After watching from the Autzen Stadium press box as Thomas twice streaked into the end zone during Oregon's 41-27 win over Arizona State, I can tell you The Black Mamba is as fast as advertised. He's a major reason the Ducks could survive so seamlessly without LaMichael James, and, with all due respect to Kenjon Barner, Thomas will become the Ducks' primary weapon sooner than later.
But Watkins is already playing that role for Clemson, and doing so at an extraordinarily high level. In Saturday night's comeback win over Maryland, the freshman racked up a school-record 345 all-purpose yards. He caught two touchdowns in the third quarter as the Tigers began their rally from a 35-17 deficit, returned one kickoff 70 yards and, when it mattered most, returned another 89 yards for the go-ahead score with 7:24 remaining.
"I told him after [his] fumbled punt in the first quarter that he owed me one. He certainly responded," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "He did show he was human tonight, but to break C.J. Spiller's [single-game] all-purpose record in just [his] seventh game is incredible."
There are many reasons why Clemson is a surprising 7-0, including continued solid play from quarterback Tajh Boyd (26-of-38 for 270 yards, four touchdowns and an interception), but Watkins -- who's averaging 172.1 all-purpose yards -- is the biggest difference-maker. And he's only 18. He draws obvious comparisons to former Clemson star Spiller, but his instant impact is more reminiscent to that of another true freshman, Percy Harvin, on Florida's 2006 BCS title team.
Harvin and Spiller were the recent posters for "explosive" all-purpose threats. Thomas and Watkins are the next generation.
My reaction to the latest AP and coaches polls:
Overrated: West Virginia (AP: No. 11. Coaches: No. 14)
The Mountaineers have played one opponent of any significance, LSU, and lost. Now they're on the cusp of the Top 10? Let's pump the brakes, AP voters.
Underrated: Kansas State (AP: No. 12. Coaches: No. 16)
AP voters got the memo, but what are you waiting for coaches? With their 41-34 win at Texas Tech, the 6-0 Wildcats have now beaten four straight bowl-bound teams yet remain behind seven one-loss teams.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's this week's edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. OklahomaRose: Oregon vs. WisconsinFiesta: Oklahoma State vs. StanfordSugar: LSU vs. Boise StateOrange: Clemson vs. West Virginia
There's really nothing to see here until someone loses.
• No. 1 LSU imposed its will over Tennessee throughout Saturday's 38-7 win in Knoxville, but never more so than a 99-yard second-half drive in which it gained all 99 yards on the ground. Six different players carried the ball. "Our running game is really strong right now, and our offensive line is blocking so well and playing smart football," said Tigers quarterback Jarrett Lee, who was 10-of-14 for 115 yards and two scores. "We're keeping the ball in our hands and it's helping us right now."
• Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles broke the NCAA's career reception record when he made his 317th catch Saturday night against Kansas, a 57-yard touchdown, part of a 13-catch, 217-yard performance. The previous record-holder, Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield, sent Broyles a congratulatory e-mail earlier in the week, but apparently Broyles wasn't too caught up in history. "Had to fish Broyles' record-setting gloves out of trash," tweeted OU sports information director Kenny Mossman. "He tossed 'em."
• Every Heisman candidate needs a signature moment, and Alabama running back Trent Richardson may have achieved his Saturday against Ole Miss. Seemingly walled in to heading out of bounds, Richardson executed the football equivalent of a crossover dribble to shake off Rebels defensive back Senquez Golsen to finish a 76-yard touchdown run. Richardson set career highs with 183 yards (his sixth straight 100-yard game) and four touchdowns.
• Even Jim Tressel never drew up anything as conservative as Ohio State's 17-7 win over previously undefeated Illinois. Riding reinstated running back Dan Herron (114 yards on 23 carries) and a dominant defense, quarterback Braxton Miller attempted just four passes, completing one of them -- a 17-yard touchdown to Jake Stoneburner. "The gameplan was to win," said coach Luke Fickell. "However we had to do it, we were ready to do it."
• Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is quietly producing a solid senior season. Benefiting from the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, Harris ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency, completing 67.2 percent of his passes (up from 54.8 last season) with a 12-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His 20-of-30, 267-yard, three-TD performance helped the 'Canes (3-3) rebound from last week's Virginia Tech heartbreaker with a 30-24 win at North Carolina (5-2).
• As if Oklahoma State's opponents didn't have enough to deal with defending against Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Joseph Randle, enter sophomore tailback Jeremy Smith. Saturday at Texas he broke touchdown runs of 30 and 74 yards, continuing a season-long streak of scoring at least one touchdown every game. "We never know who's going to be the guy that makes big plays for our offense. ... Jeremy's just kind of been there the last few weeks," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said.
• Boise State's first Mountain West conference game looked a lot like its old WAC mismatches. The Broncos (6-0) racked up a staggering 742 total yards in a 63-13 demolition of Colorado State (3-3). Kellen Moore (26-of-30, 338 yards, four touchdowns) may be the face of the program, but running back Doug Martin had a career day, rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns in just over a half.
• Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill stole some thunder from Baylor's Robert Griffin III with a 415-yard, six-touchdown performance in the No. 17 Aggies' 55-28 win over the 20th-ranked Bears (4-2). Shedding its previous second-half woes, A&M closed the game with 21 straight points after Baylor got to within 34-28. RGIII didn't go down quietly, however, throwing for a school-record 430 yards. He became the third quarterback this year to break his school's record against A&M.
• John Brantley injury or not, it's hard to overstate just how pitiful Florida's offense has been since entering conference play. The Gators (4-3) managed just six points and 194 total yards Saturday against Auburn's 77th-ranked defense. Apparently coordinator Charlie Weis' decided schematic advantage can only do so much for a team with two freshman quarterbacks, a mediocre offensive line and no game-breaking receivers.
• Washington's 52-24 win over Colorado gave the Huskies (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) at least 30 points in each of their first six games, a first in school history. Washington is also 5-1 for the first time in a decade. It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but give credit again to quarterback Keith Price (21-of-28, 257 yards, four touchdowns, no picks), who now ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency and second in touchdowns (21). Next week he goes head-to-head with Heisman front-runner Andrew Luck.
• Cal coach Jeff Tedford can only dream he has a top-five quarterback as poor play from that position continues to haunt the Bears (3-3). Zach Maynard threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in last Thursday's 30-9 home loss to USC, wasting a superb performance from Cal's defense. There was no shortage of grumbling in the AT&T Park stands (I was sitting in them) toward Tedford, the once revered coach who has now lost six straight conference games.
• Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas wasn't nearly as dominant against Wake Forest as he was last week against Miami, but he was effective enough (17-of-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, 11 carries for 30 yards and two scores) to help the Hokies (6-1, 2-1 ACC) cool off the Demon Deacons (4-2, 3-1), 38-17. Coupled with Georgia Tech's (6-1, 3-1) loss to Virginia, Frank Beamer's team may be back in the driver's seat in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
• SMU (5-1, 3-0 Conference USA) asserted itself as Houston's chief competitor in the conference with a 38-17 rout of UCF (3-3, 1-1), which came in allowing 17.6 points per game. Now perhaps they can take their budding rivalry to the Big East.
• Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish became just the 10th player in FBS history to both rush (229 yards on 14 carries) and pass (203) for 200 yards in a game in Saturday's 51-22 win over Western Michigan.
• Remember when Todd Graham's Tulsa teams were putting up 600 yards? Graham's Pitt Panthers (3-4) managed just 120 in a 26-14 home loss to Utah.
• Iowa got over its recent hex against Northwestern (five losses in the last six meetings) with a 41-31 victory, but the most impressive feat took place in the stands.
Readers of this column are presumably well aware of the football ramifications of Missouri's looming decision whether to join the SEC or remain in the Big 12 -- one that could impact not just those two leagues but, depending on how the dominoes fall, the Big East and the newly announced Mountain West-Conference USA mega-merger as well. I really enjoyed this Kansas City Star feature on the vast cultural differences within that state and how they parallel the school's two disparate conference choices.
As native Missourian Stacy Langston says in the article: "Each section of Missouri is its own little state."
The northern part of Missouri shares borders with Kansas, Iowa and Illinois, which between them hold three Big 12 members and Mizzou's arch-rival, Illinois. But it's also true that the southern part of the state shares borders with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. And the people in that part of the state most assuredly think of themselves as Southerners. "We've got our own language around here," Jason Chandler, a cotton farmer in Kennett, Mo., told the Star. As the article points out, the town is actually closer to Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State than it is to Mizzou, 320 miles away.
It's doubtful that details like these are high on the discussion agenda for chancellor Brady Deaton or the school's board of curators, who continue to plot Mizzou's next move behind closed doors. Politics, television money and long-term stability are presumably the driving factors. As we've seen from Texas A&M (which Texas now says it cannot schedule until at least 2018), Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others, loyalty and tradition are pretty far down the list as well.
Note that it's not a given the SEC presidents will come to a consensus on inviting Missouri, though given that conference's need to get to 14 teams sooner than later (scheduling models for 13 have proven unavoidably clunky), and lack of consensus on any other school, Mizzou could probably talk its way in if convinced it's the right move. Somehow, we've reached the point where the entire country is waiting on a decision from this one traditionally unthreatening football program.
What started as an occasional Twitter joke is starting to pick up serious steam. Joe Tessitore -- the excitable announcer who teams with Rod Gilmore on ESPN's Friday night broadcasts -- seems to have inherited former NCAA tournament voice Gus Johnson's knack for landing himself games with wild, last-second finishes.
Starting with last season's Boise State-Nevada thriller, Tessitore and Gilmore have been on a tear. Their first game this season was Baylor's 50-48 upset of TCU. Subsequent weeks brought Arizona State's overtime win over Missouri and BYU's last-second win over Utah State. With that in mind, I figured I better at least tune in for the fourth quarter of last Friday's otherwise unappealing Hawaii-San Jose State game -- and I'm glad I did. It may have been the wackiest Friday night game this season.
The teams combined for 12 turnovers. San Jose State committed six in the second half alone. In between, however, it was big plays galore, with six touchdowns spanning 16 yards or more. Hawaii went up 27-20 early in the fourth quarter; however, San Jose's Travis Johnson blocked the extra point and Duke Ihenacho ran it back for two points to make it 27-22. That would prove critical when the Spartans drove down the field at the end, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 37-yard Matt Faulkner pass with 36 seconds left. At game's end, San Jose State fans stormed the field.
Part of me regretted not being there in person, seeing as the stadium is nine miles from my new home. But then I would have missed Tessitore's call, which, much like Johnson calling hoops, is often as entertaining as the game itself.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
• Wisconsin at Michigan State, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): The Badgers average 258 yards a game on the ground; the Spartans allow an average of 67. Russell Wilson boasts a national-best 210.9 pass efficiency rating; MSU foes have posted a national-worst 84.4. This is when Heisman bids are made or destroyed.
• Auburn at LSU, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): It was this game last year -- a 24-17 Auburn win featuring Cam Newton's memorable touchdown dash -- that caused much of the public to start taking Auburn seriously as a national title contender. LSU has no such problem this year. It's goal is merely to keep people believing.
• Washington at Stanford, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): For a top-10 team with the projected No. 1 draft pick at quarterback, Stanford managed to play the first half of its schedule in near anonymity. Hopefully a nationally televised game against a ranked opponent will cause some people east of California to tune in to this one.