The national title chase received a seismic shake-up with the upsets of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 5 Nebraska and No. 10 South Carolina
This is an article from the Oct. 25, 2010 issue
With two minutes remaining in the latest (and almost certainly not the last) toppling of the No. 1 team in college football this season, a stern announcement came over the public address system at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium: "Please remain in your seats. No one is allowed on the field."
With the Badgers on the cusp of a milestone, 31--18 win over top-ranked Ohio State, that admonition was met with a mixture of boos and laughter. Moments later, Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor's ill-advised heave down the middle of the field was picked off by safety Blake Sorensen, sealing Wisconsin's first victory over a No. 1 team since 1981 and ensuring that the announcer would be ignored. When time ran out on Ohio State and students rushed the field, security guards did nothing to stop them.
Amid the ensuing anarchy, a pair of giants shared a bear hug. As they embraced, Badgers offensive tackle Gabe Carimi shouted to defensive lineman J.J. Watt, "That's what I'm f------ talkin' about!"
Weren't we all. Upsets were a trending topic on Seismic Saturday, on which the landscape of the top 10 experienced some serious upheaval even before that wave of cardinal crashed onto the field at Wisconsin. About 15 minutes before the Badgers' 169-pound David Gilreath electrified the stadium by returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert was taking a knee at Nebraska's five-yard line, adding a touch of class to the Longhorns' 20--13 upset of the No. 5 Cornhuskers.
Even as hordes of overserved undergrads climbed the goalposts at Camp Randall, No. 10 South Carolina was wondering what on earth had become of its 28--10 halftime lead over unranked Kentucky. A week after upending then No. 1 Alabama, the Gamecocks—missing the services of freshman running back sensation Marcus Lattimore, whose sprained left ankle kept him out of the second half—were knocked off by the Wildcats. Facing a fourth-and-seven with just 1:42 left to play and his team trailing 28--23, Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline calmly lofted a 24-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, who subsequently crashed over the left side for the two-point conversion.
"I'm in a street fight," Wildcats coach Joker Phillips had told his team at halftime. "I want to see who has my back."
With the release on Sunday of the season's first batch of BCS rankings, the fight for position takes on an added urgency. One conclusion to be drawn from the rankings: The six BCS computers don't exactly have Boise State's back. Ranked No. 2 in the coaches' and Harris polls (the two that matter for BCS purposes) and coming off a 48--0 drubbing of San Jose State, the Broncos came in third in the initial BCS standings, behind No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Oregon.
The Broncos (and their non-BCS compadres at fifth-ranked TCU) can take heart in this near certainty: The upsets are only just beginning. The 2010 season is beginning to take on the unpredictable, irrational, surreal feel of 2007, a.k.a. the Year of the Upset, when top five teams were brought down by unranked opponents on nine occasions. As more of those teams tumble, the easier it becomes for one-loss outfits to claw their way back into the national championship mix. Recall that in '07, two-loss LSU beat one-loss Ohio State in the BCS title game. Don't look now, but eight days after being manhandled by South Carolina, defending national champion Alabama has already climbed to No. 8 in the BCS.
Even by the lunchpail standards of Wisconsin football, the win over Ohio State was exceptionally blue-collar and brutal, the apotheosis of smashmouth. Badgers coach Bret Bielema, whose 43--15 record at Wisconsin prior to last week included just one win over a ranked Big Ten opponent, spent the days before the Buckeyes game repeating a number to his offensive linemen. "Everybody made a big deal about the 29 games that Ohio State had played without [allowing] a 100-yard rusher," he said. "I threw it in those guys' faces all week."
The big uglies got another incentive the day before the game, when running back John Clay arrived at the football facility with the numbers of the team's five starting offensive linemen shaved into his head. (They are tackles Carimi and Ricky Wagner, guards John Moffitt and Kevin Zeitler and center Peter Konz.) It was a smart play: Clay can shave the numbers off whenever he likes, and now he's not obligated to buy the guys dinner.
Inspired, no doubt, by that tonsorial tribute, the Badgers' hogs came out firing off the ball. They opened wide swaths for Clay, who pounded out 51 yards on Wisconsin's first possession, which he capped with a 14-yard touchdown run. The team's second drive was a Kurosawa epic: a 19-play, 89-yard, 10-plus-minute clinic in ball control that put the Badgers up 21--0 and signaled to the rest of the country that No. 1 was going down.
"They didn't run reverses," noted Buckeyes linebacker Brian Rolle. "They didn't do too much. The quarterback, I think he threw 16 passes. They just ran the ball. We've got to be able to stop that."
They were not able to stop that. Clay finished with 104 yards on 21 carries. His running mate, freshman James White, added 75 yards on 17 carries, including a nifty 12-yard touchdown run with seven minutes to play. Before that the Buckeyes had scored 18 unanswered points.
Pryor completed just half of his 28 passes. "Teamwise, we just blew it," said Pryor. "It's tough for us, because we thought we had a really good team. We let this one slip by us."
Wrong. Ohio State didn't let victory slip by. The Badgers took it.
Call it the Sorbet Bowl. In the days before they knocked heads, Nebraska and Texas players spoke of a desire to "get a bad taste out of our mouths." The Longhorns rode a two-game losing streak into Lincoln. For its part, Nebraska's 1--7 record in its last eight games against Texas was a source of embarrassment. Its primary piece of unfinished business before leaving the Big 12 after this season was to beat its longtime tormentors.
Nebraska's powerful aversion to burnt orange runs deeper than its woeful recent record against the Hook 'Ems. Texas, after all, was the main reason Nebraska accepted the Big Ten's invitation to join it in June. Since the Big 12's inception in 1996, schools from its northern division have bellyached about the Longhorns' outsized influence over the conference. Complaints ranged from inequitable distribution of TV money (the Horns always got the most), the decision to locate the conference headquarters in Dallas, rather than Kansas City, to a deeply held belief that Texas got preferential treatment from officials.
And yet, on the day in June when Nebraska announced that it was Big Ten bound, Huskers athletic director and coaching legend Tom Osborne assured reporters, "This is not about any type of vindictiveness or animosity." Speak for yourself, replied the vast majority of Nebraska fans, who long ago circled Saturday's date on their calendars.
This was not a revenge game, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had spent the week insisting. His team was not seeking vengeance for the heartbreaking last-second loss at the hands of the Longhorns in last season's Big 12 title game. Straying from the company line at a Friday boosters breakfast, running backs coach Tim Beck admitted, "We've been preparing for this game for 10 months."
The Longhorns' staff, on the other hand, spent two weeks getting ready for Nebraska and its dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Taylor (T-Magic) Martinez, whose 12 rushing touchdowns through his first five games included scoring runs of 80 (twice), 67, 46, 43, 35 and 20 yards. Studying Martinez on film, the Longhorns noticed that, rather than actually "reading" defenders, the redshirt freshman sometimes decided where he was going with the ball before it was snapped. An ornery Texas front seven made him pay for that. Where Nebraska's previous opponents had given Martinez time to read—"sitting back instead of attacking," according to Longhorns free safety Blake Gideon—Texas was in his face from the jump, limiting him to 21 yards on 13 carries. Nebraska failed to score an offensive touchdown and rushed for 125 yards, about a third of its season average.
Such were the struggles of T-Magic that Pelini gave him the hook in the third quarter, replacing him with Zac Lee. Neither quarterback got much help from their receivers, who suffered a mass outbreak of butterfingers. They dropped seven passes—three of which cost the team touchdowns.
Yet for all the spite and deep-seated grudges, Nebraska fans comported themselves, in the main, with class and good manners. "I've never been anywhere [else] where the fans tell you, 'Good game,' as you're coming off the field," noted Texas offensive tackle Kyle Hix.
"They want to beat the heck out of you," added Gideon, "but they're welcoming and gracious."
For the most part that was true. There was, of course, that one outburst from the fright-wigged Huskers fan in Section 31—the guy rocking a PELINI MARTINI T-shirt who'd painted his face to resemble a skull. With Texas bleeding the clock in the final two minutes, Wig Man directed his ire at the Nebraska cheerleaders, who had fallen silent. "We're up here making more noise than you are!" he shouted. "Get your poms and start cheering!" Somewhat grudgingly, they did.
When time expired, Huskers fans endured the now-familiar sight of Longhorns players celebrating in their house, then clustering in a corner of the south end zone to sing The Eyes of Texas with their fans. Making his way off the field, an orange-blazered septuagenarian seemed to slow down just before entering the tunnel, as if to take in the sight of Memorial Stadium one final time. "Lot of history here," said Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds. "A lot of great memories. We're going to miss them," he said of the Cornhuskers.
Forgive them, Mr. Dodds, if the feeling is not mutual.
Seismic Saturday was a bit rough on certain traditions. Badgers fans at Camp Randall are accustomed to a postgame bacchanal known as the Fifth Quarter. Win or lose, the Wisconsin marching band takes the field after every game, playing such numbers as On Wisconsin, You've Said It All (the Budwesier song) and a variation of Also sprach Zarathustra.
With the Buckeyes vanquished, however, the band was bottled up in the tunnel and unable to march onto the field, it being occupied for the next hour or so by a surprisingly large fraction of the student body and the football team. No one seemed to mind overly much.
One of the last players to leave the field was Gilreath, whose blur of a kickoff return had set the tone for this historic night. Thronged by well-wishers, his smile incandescent, the senior accepted kudos and posed for pictures with anyone who asked. The season of upsets is upon us. Like Gilreath, we might as well embrace the madness.
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