HIGHS AND LOWS from October 22nd weekend
By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
 
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October 25, 2005

There was little shakeup at the top, with only one of the undefeateds going to the wayside. In beating this in-state nemesis, Texas proved to many voters why they had (so far) failed to include Texas Tech – even without a loss – into their top 10s. Only mediocre North Division teams had been of any challenge to the Red Raiders up until their foray into Austin. But The Longhorns proved much as their No.5 pass efficiency defense easily kept Tech’s No.1 passing offense in check when needed. Only one of Tech’s accomplished receivers averaged over ten yards per catch, and none achieved 100 total yards for the game. The pride of Lubbock even had a 7-3 lead toward the end of the first quarter, but then the deluge began. It was 38-10 by early in the third, and although Cody Hodges had a decent stat line as his team held the ball for 12 minutes more than UT, the Longhorns proved their dominance at every turn. Tech played well, but Texas was way more than anything the Red Raiders could handle. Successful against many 2005 foes, Tech’s pick plays, especially, were well-anticipated and overcome by speed and size. To counter, the Longhorns used offensive balance to average over seven yards per play. Mac Brown has his team ranked 15th for pass defense and fifth in efficiency, and, similarly, Young is 51st in passing (yards) while placing third in overall efficiency - Texas has, so far, maximized every effort. Little now stands in their way, so expect a return trip to Pasadena, this time for all the marbles.

Alabama and Tennessee squared off for one of the year’s best games to date. A scoreless tie at the half was broken as ‘Bama ended the third stanza with a field goal, which was matched less than four minutes later. As Tennessee drove to the Alabama 15 late in the fourth, a third-and-goal swing pass to FB Cory Anderson, which was about to be converted for six, became a forced fumble inside the five yard-line. FS Roman Harper strategically affected Anderson’s single-handed carrying style with a huge hit that sent the pigskin out of the endzone for a Crimson Tide touchback. QB Brodie Croyle then proved why his health is the difference between going 6-6 last year and 7-0 (so far) this time, taking his team 63 yards for the winning FG. ‘Bama was 5-2 a year ago at this juncture before a 17-13 loss to the Vols began a 1-4 stretch that defined a disappointing campaign. A year later, Croyle’s 17-for-27, 190 yard performance is only outshone by Harper (who had another forced fumble earlier in the game) and LB DeMeco Ryans (11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, one INT and one fumble recovery). The writing is on the wall for the Tide, with tilts against West Division rivals LSU and Auburn to close – a loss to either would likely cost the Tide a trip to Atlanta (for the SEC title game). Along with Michigan, Tennessee becomes the nation’s best three-loss squad. At 2-3 in the East, the Vols need for Georgia to lose to both Auburn and (this week to) Florida (and then for the Gators to lose to either Vandy or South Carolina) to have any shot at going to the conference title game. After giving testimony back when Alabama was up on NCAA violations, most in Tuscaloosa wanted to pay Vol’s coach Phil Fulmer back, and finally did so appropriately. The 6-3 win marks only the second time in 11 years that the Tide have beaten Fulmer’s boys, and the first time since 1930 – when both schools were in the now-defunct Southern conference (which predated the SEC by three years) – that Alabama won versus the Vols in their home town (from 1932 until 1997, the game was played in Birmingham as a home game for the Tide, not on their campus.) ‘Bama could finish 8-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1994, but they subsequently lost that year’s title game 24-23 to Florida (the only team they have ever played for the crown, going 2-3 all-time against them in SEC title games), so nothing is taken for granted. Someone from the West is going to play Georgia…

We have called out Pittsburgh a few times this campaign, mostly for continuing to play at essentially the same level under new coach Dave Wannstedt as they did under old coach Walt Harris (now at Stanford). A 16-10 OT loss on national TV to Ohio (not State, but the MAC school) came right after Notre Dame spanked the Panthers 42-21 at the (home) opener. Only a 41-0 win against I-AA Youngstown State buoyed the Panthers early, and their initial Big East matchup with Rutgers ended in a disappointing 37-29 Friday night loss. Then former-Pitt star Tony Dorsett reared his opinionated head and again, as he did for Harris, applied his dogmatic sideline insights for all to hear on ESPN’s FOUR QUARTERS program. Well, it must have worked, for the Panthers just won their third-straight (Big East) game, this time 34-17 against fellow-first year coach Greg Robinson and Syracuse. Robinson, whose first two losses were by a total of 11 points, has failed to get his Orangemen closer than 17 in his last four. Also similar to last year (when the Panthers started 2-2 to then go 6-1 before running into the buzz-saw known as Utah in the BCS’s Fiesta Bowl), Pittsburgh (4-4) has overcome early skepticism to now sit in prime position for their conference’s title. Louisville, who many predicted would easily win such a mediocre conference, sits at 5-2 overall, but 1-2 in the Big East and in need of many breaks to win the league’s automatic BCS bid. In hindsight, did the Redbirds pull the conference up as expected, or, more likely, did the Big East bring Louisville down to its current, streaky self? Pitt has its work cut out – remaining foes Louisville, West Virginia and Connecticut are a combined 15-6. The Panthers need two out of the three for a shot at the crown, with the ‘Backyard Brawl’ a must win as WVU sits undefeated in conference play so far. Though not playing at the highest level(s), the Big East continues to surprise and prove why any/all college football is worth following.

One of our favorite topics here is how the weather can and has played a major role in determining who the BCS teams shall be. From Georges in 1998 to Ivan last year to Katrina and Rita this year, we now have Wilma to look to as a schedule-reshaper. Tentatively, December 3rd is now the destiny for USF-WVU in Tampa, which many will recognize as ‘championship Saturday’, the day conferences hold their title games and the very last day of the regular season. South Florida sits with one conference loss, making their late-season matchup a possible winner-goes-to-the-BCS-type of game. Ostensibly, Miami is the other team affected by the recent storm, making for their second postponement (the Wake Forest game had already been put off due to Katrina) so far. Do you remember Georges in 1998, and how Miami’s early tilt with UCLA was postponed? Instead of facing a raw Bruin team with little organization at campaign’s start, they faced an undefeated, surging Pac Ten champion that luckily wasn’t at home (UM won 46-44). Living up to their name, the Canes now have to rethink how and when Georgia Tech comes to town. Georgia Tech had recently lost two straight after starting off with impressive wins at Auburn and against upstarts North Carolina and Connecticut. The Hokies and Wolfpack then humbled the Yellow Jackets, and only their 35-10 win over hapless Duke (1-6, with their lone win against I-AA VMI) hints that Tech may have righted their ship. Well, Wilma makes it highly likely that Miami now gets a resurgent (instead of a reeling) Georgia Tech squad, with the game set for November 19th. Tech then goes on to play in-state rival Georgia (11-26-05), and, without an extra week to prepare for the Dawgs, the domino effect of this week’s storm could easily touch that game’s outcome (against an undefeated team in [the back of the] line for the national championship), too. This last one is a longer shot, seeing how Dawg QB D.J. Shockley is out and backup Joe Tereshinski is their starter for the ‘Cocktail Party’ against Florida. Miami remains the most-untested of the top 10, but that changes as they venture into the heart and soul of ACC country to face their final five foes. Just ask Cal fans if a lackluster performance at campaign’s end is enough to cost your team its BCS invite…

North Texas came into this season as the Sun Belt’s four-time (and only) defending champion, having won 25 straight against their modest league-mates. The only loss came in their very first conference game against Louisiana-Monroe,19-17, giving them the nation’s longest in-conference win-streak next to Boise State’s 26 (which is now 30) as the season started. Only ten schools in Division I-A have ever won four titles in a row. Then there are the RBs, senior Pat Cobbs and sophomore Jamario Thomas, who comprise the only backfield to ever feature two returning NCAA rushing champions. School records set by Cobbs the prior year (2003) were shattered by a then-freshman Thomas, who, after a rough start, also set a few NCAA freshman rushing records in 2004, to boot. Still, in all of this, the best team in the Sun Belt has only mustered a 4-21 record outside the league during this span, going 1-10 against BCS-aligned squads (their only win was against Baylor in 2003, 52-14) which still represents the team’s best showing since the ‘70s. One year and a revamped offensive line later, Troy has since ruined their conference streak (13-10 loss 10-4-05) and the Cobbs-Thomas duo has the Mean Green modestly ranked 79th in rushing offense. What happened, many have asked…and the only answer keeps coming up QB. Heir-apparent Andrew Smith (last season’s projected backup) was tragically killed just as 2004 was about to start, and two ‘green’ underclassmen have failed to produce since QB Scott Hall graduated. Dan Meager has unfortunately lived up to his name, completing under 50% of his attempts and matching Hall’s entire 2004 INT tally (four) while only earning two passing scores, so far. The team’s rushing average has slipped from 4.6 to 3.4 as first half scoring has been almost non-existent – a total of nine second-quarter points is eclipsed only by their tally of two in the first-quarter. With this week’s hurricane-related make-up exam against LSU and their 22nd-rated total defense, don’t expect much to change. North Texas can still win out in the conference and possibly take the title, with Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, and Arkansas State the only other schools with a real shot. And what does the winner get? An all-expense-paid trip to fabulous New Orleans and the honor of playing in the first bowl game of the season. When it rains, it pours…hey, I’m from there, so I can say that.

And now, what of the latest BCS standings and the big jump Texas made over Southern Cal. The .0007 differential is based primarily on the disparaging amount of weight given to the computer polls, which rank Texas at the top, a result that differs with the results of the AP, Coaches, and/or Harris Interactive polls. Evidently, Texas’ win at Ohio State trumps USC’s victory in South Bend; similarly, Oklahoma, Colorado and a then-undefeated Texas Tech seem to add up to more than Oregon, Arizona State and Arkansas. Due to this shift, many will posture and denounce the BCS as a colossal failure due to computer results failing to match human perception. But the computers have one main difference, a difference that allows them to see much more clearly in this case - machines designed to rate/rank Division I-A teams are wisely programmed to not have a memory of past seasons. Now, please, don’t get me wrong – I do not support the current BCS structure over a playoff, though I believe that the two can be merged without losing the bite of either. What I am saying here is that the bias given to USC due to having won two-consecutive national championships has altered many human votes, with voters colluding to revolve around the “until they lose a game, they remain number one” mentality that usually pervades individual sports, like boxing. With 119 ever-changing I-A squads, a national title is only as powerful as the season within which it was won. In other words, each season starts anew - equal 0-0 records are posted for all, reflecting player changes, coaching turnover(s) and, subsequently, new strategies that ultimately make the same schools look and perform differently from year to year. Southern Cal may be the defending champions, but to give them any extra credence in areas of poll voting is not validated. The objectivity that the current computer polls bring should be a clear signal to many voters that their subjective beliefs are not congruous with statistical breakdowns. The end result (of a mid-season switch amongst the No.1 and 2 teams) is really a non-story, a novelty at best. We already know that any third (and possibly fourth and/or fifth) undefeated/deserving team(s) will be left out of the championship game, so accepted unfairness is already part of the BCS landscape. I agree that leaving an undefeated USC team out of the Rose Bowl would be a bigger sin than leaving out an undefeated Virginia Tech, Alabama, Georgia, or UCLA squad, but objectivity doesn’t lie and is actually needed to balance the human bias given to the Trojans. To me, Texas as No.1 reflects that Southern Cal’s first-half struggles from week to week are not a fluke, and that any tilt with the Longhorns which followed the Trojan’s recent 60-minute template would likely result in a Texas win. USC cannot go out against a Texas, Virginia Tech and/or Alabama squad, tank the first half as they have so often, and expect to bounce back like they have. USC may have the nation’s top ranked offense (total and scoring), but Virginia Tech (2nd), Alabama (4th), and Texas (6th) each rank in the top 10 defensively and would surely not falter in the second half like so many of the Trojan’s foes have if given a lead. This year is no slam-dunk for Carroll, Leinart & Co., and the computers just happen to beat genuine game results and under-the-breath naysayers to the (eventual) punch.

Lagniappe
Northwestern’s 49-14 upset over previously-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing may have surprised many, but it was the Wildcat’s third win in their last four tries against their Big Ten brethren. Still, it has to be considered the upset of the week…The other “big” upset came as Western Michigan (quick, what is the name of their team? See answer below) handed Bowling Green a 45-14 spanking at Doyt Perry Field. Didn’t some (including myself) call BG out as a possible BCS-buster?...Michigan’s 23-20 OT win at Iowa is the Wolverine’s fifth straight game to be decided by three points or less, and the second in a row they have won on the game’s final play. UM is 3-2 in such games…Brad Smith cannot be overlooked here, like he was by his coaches when almost yanked last week as the starter before the big Nebraska game. Smith became only the sixth I-A player to both pass and run for 200+ in a single game, and, though an amazing feat, a highly-recruited Smith has mostly underachieved during his career at Mizzu. Smith’s 246/234 run/pass totals moved him into second place for career rushing by a QB (behind Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El) and into 10th for all-time I-A offensive production. Still, it was the Tiger defense that arguably accomplished the most – they held Nebraska to two rushing yards, the school’s lowest total since 1951…Quality teams lose a player and scantly miss a beat, so we will see just how good Georgia is under backup QB Joe Tereshinski. Losing to both Florida and Auburn would surely usher the Gators back into the SEC title game…Baylor’s 37-30 2OT loss to Oklahoma was the closest the Bears have ever come to beating the Sooners. Now 0-11 all-time versus OU, Baylor’s last close one was 1997’s 24-23 squeaker, also in Norman, a year the Sooners limped to a 4-8 record. Both now are 4-3, and, like their competitive tilt, many would have scoffed if such results were predicted at campaign’s outset…Conference foes should cringe if either Indiana (4-3) or Vanderbilt (4-4) is still left on their slates. Both (as is Baylor) are still in line for a major upset somewhere along the way…Tennessee’s Gerald Riggs, Jr., son of the former-NFL star with whom he shares his name, is now lost for the season with lower leg and ankle troubles. This guy was the blood and grits behind the Vols 30-27 OT win (9-26-05) at LSU, grinding in for the winning touchdown in the same fashion he always carries the rock. Ironically enough, he was hurt on a 24-yard run, his longest of the 2005 season. Then, Cory Anderson came in and (see above story)…Speaking of tough games in Baton Rouge, Auburn’s junior kicker John Vaughn missed five attempts in their 20-17 OT loss, the last a 39-yarder in OT which would have tied the game and forced another stanza. Comparatively, LSU’s PK Chris Jackson missed his first try (38 yards) in the swirling winds and was quickly replaced by David Colt, who then missed a 28-yard try early in the fourth. Jackson came back with 1:40 left in regulation and nailed a 44-yared to send the game into OT and a 30-yarded for the eventual win. Special teams matter, just ask Minnesota…Does Dennis Dodd (CBS.com) really have to point out how Oregon State safety Sabby Piscitelli’s words carry little weight due to his unique first name? Sabby’s comments (surrounding UCLA’s win and how the Bruins really don’t look like a top 10 team), coming from someone who has on-the-field expertise in this topic, carry a lot more oomph than those that come from some armchair wanna-be who thinks that impressive offensive output means an undefeated squad is automatically one of the nation’s elite. See Texas Tech and their foray into Austin (above) for any further questions…Miami, Virginia Tech, and Texas remain the only defenses to allow foes under four yards per play…Southern Cal, Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, Louisville and Texas are the only I-A offenses to average over seven yards per play…Besides Notre Dame and Northwestern, Southern Cal’s 92nd-ranked pass defense is the worst amongst top 25 teams…Pittsburgh, UTEP, LSU and California each have two DBs listed in the NCAA’s top 20 for passes defended…Reggie Bush, Reggie Bush, Reggie Bush – for the top 15 rushers, he remains the only one to average over seven per carry (8.64), and with under 100 tries, we must wonder just how many yards he might have if he were USC’s prime ball-carrier (LenDale White has 107 carries). Given his many roles, Bush tops the all-purpose rankings and is the lone player to achieve 200+ yards per game…And finally, to answer our deeply embedded trivia question – Western Michigan is known as the Broncos. If you knew that AND could name their stadium (Waldo) without doing any research, you need to join us in getting a life away from the gridiron.