By Dave Hershorin
October 9, 2006

ACC - Clemson took it easy for three quarters and fell behind then-undefeated Wake Forest 17-3. But a fourth quarter rally sparked by senior DE Gaines Adams’ 66-yard fumble return resulted in 24 unanswered points and a win for the Tigers. Adams forced that fumble and another one, plus he had two sacks. Clemson survived four turnovers of their own, for though they nearly doubled the Demon Deacons in total yards, Clemson allowed Wake to hold a lead due to mistake after mistake. Tommy Bowden’s boys still sit behind N.C. State in the ACC Atlantic Division standings – the Wolfpack have two embarrassing losses, but neither Akron nor Southern Mississippi is in the ACC, hence their 3-0 league mark. N.C. State handled FSU at home 24-20 as Chuckie Amato (now 4-3 against his old team) looked like he still had a copy of the Nole’s playbook. Down 20-10, FSU’s usually staunch defense took it on the chin during the Pack comeback. It looks like the November 11th showdown between the younger Bowden and former-Bobby Bowden assistant coach Amato should determine who represents their half of the conference in their league championship game.

SEC - The SEC landscape was somewhat cleared up with this past Saturday’s developments. Coming in No.2, Auburn got chumped 27-10 at home by an underdog Arkansas squad that proved its resilience via their 11th-ranked running game (the Hogs are the only SEC team to place in the top 40). Tiger RB Kenny Irons may have been leading the league coming into this one, but sophomore Hog back Darren McFadden now does after his 145 yard performance. Add in classmate Felix Jones’ 104 (no loss) yards and classmate flanker Reggie Fish’s single rush for 28 yards and you get the 279 yards rushed against an Auburn team that had been allowing only 88 ground yards per game. The Razorbacks allowed Auburn only 213 total yards as they scored the first ten points and the last ten points. Auburn was tenuously the nation’s second-best team and seemed to be the best in the SEC after winning a defensive chess match against LSU 7-3. But with Florida remaining unbeaten and trouncing LSU 23-10 at homecoming in Gainesville Saturday, it only seems logical that the Gators are the clear SEC favorite. Auburn and Florida play this weekend. Freshman QB Tim Tebow again seemed unstoppable as he ran for 35 yards and got the Gator’s only rushing TD as well as throwing both of the teams scoring passes. He went 2-for-2 on the day. UF is in the middle of a four game SEC run that is the conference’s toughest stretch of back-to-back competition any team has to endure. Two “easy” home wins against Alabama and (now) LSU mean that Urban Meyers upcoming tussles with Tommy Tuberville and Mark Richt, both away from the “Swamp”, will determine if these Gators have any bite. They now easily find themselves in the top three as USC and West Virginia keep struggling with mediocre teams. Florida has to be happy with the fact that since they’ve already beaten Tennessee, they can know that they will most likely represent the SEC East in the championship. The Vols dismantled an over-rated Georgia defense to win 51-33 in Athens, winning the second half 37-9. Georgia gave the ball away on their last two possessions – one by fumble and the other on an INT. No.8 Tennessee, now 5-1, jumped five spots in the poll and seems to be back where they left off before they went south with a 5-6 season in ’05. Fulmer’s guys have to endure their own upcoming four- game slate of league perennials - Alabama, (at) South Carolina, LSU and then away at giant-killer Arkansas. It would be a miracle if the SEC could refrain from beating itself into a bunch of three-loss teams without one that can emerge to be a BCS wildcard.

Big 12 - Unbeaten Missouri climbed five slots in the polls to No.18 after embarrassing Texas Tech in their Homecoming 38-21. The Tigers may have been outgained by 150 yards, but they just had to turn four Red Raider TOs into TDs to produce the victory. Mizzu has a home date with Oklahoma the last week of October and then one with unbeaten Nebraska, who also is unbeaten in Big 12 play. Without Texas on the Missouri horizon, this Tiger squad can go as far as they want up the polls until they play the Longhorns in Kansas City for the conference championship. Texas rolled over the Sooners 28-10 in their Red River Shootout. The Big 12 table is set, and we wait to see if Missouri can sit with Texas come December 2nd.

Pac Ten – Either Washington has pulled itself up pretty far or USC has lowered its usual high standard of play. Both seem true. USC rode the foot of Mario Danelo to four FGs and a 26-20 win. Washington senior QB Isaiah Stanback’s modest 17-of-38, 212 yard, two TD effort was complimented by his 33 yard rushing total. Stanback came in fifth in the Pac Ten 100-meter finals, but would rather stand in the pocket. In 2006, 10 TDs and only three INTs by the nation’s 19th-rated total offensive machine make him invaluable and tell why the Huskies have produced a 4-2 record. Stanback is second on the team this year for net rushing yards with 339, but he has gained a team high (394) without his sacks factored in. Stanback got Washington down to the Trojan 15 when time ran out in Los Angeles on their potential game winning drive. The Trojans’ 28th-ranked defense looked shoddy giving up 379 total yards, and the whole team even gave UW 55 more net yards in penalty differential. USC still has a daunting schedule to achieve and the Trojans look the most vulnerable they have in the last four years. Oregon, Cal, Arizona State and then non-con Notre Dame all visit the Coliseum, so each/any of them that may win there will have to earn the victory. The November 18th tilt with their fellow front-runner Golden Bears could decide the league’s BCS representative. No.10 Cal roared, trouncing then-No.11 Oregon 45-24 in Berkeley and solidifying a place just below undefeated USC. Both are left with 3-0 Pac Ten records after this past weekend. All of those still undefeated in conference play drew each other last Saturday.

Big Ten – No.1 Ohio State really seems to be the only dominant team. The Buckeyes, 35-7 winners over Bowling Green, have won by 20+ over every foe but Texas (which was by 17 and the three-score difference of 24-7). Yet fourth-ranked Michigan has quietly won all six of theirs by at least 14 as they field the nation’s top-rated rushing defense. They also have the nation’s best time-of-possession differential, averaging nine more minutes with the ball than their counterparts. The Wolverines soundly beat Michigan State 31-13, so their trip into Happy Valley this weekend followed by a home stand with Iowa afterwards are the only things in the way of the season-ender with OSU (Nov. 18th) becoming the by-default conference championship. Besides No.25 Wisconsin, these two are the only ones in this conference in the top 25. If the loser of the showdown at the Horseshoe leaves with one loss, that team could still get a BCS wildcard bid.

Big East – The 42-14 WVU win in Starkville over Mississippi State solidified their No.4 ranking…or did it? It didn’t, and the Mountaineers fell a spot as Michigan leapfrogged them. Louisville also won Friday after falling behind 10-3 early to Middle Tennessee. The Redbirds then reeled of 34-unanswered points to keep themselves amongst the ranks of the eight I-A unbeatens (three are from this conference). Neither WVU nor Louisville, both 5-0, has played a conference game, so Pitt (5-1, 2-0) and unbeaten No.24 Rutgers (5-0, 1-0) appear atop the Big East standings. All four of those still undefeated in the conference play each other, and three of them still have to play USF. The Bulls (4-2, 1-1) looked good at home against UConn, winning 38-16 and making freshman QB Matt Grothe into the nation’s newest secret weapon. The Lakeland-native went 12-of-15 for 146 yards and one TD, and also was second on the team with 82 of their 205 rushing yards as he got three ground scores. Do not underestimate him, and expect Grothe to upset one of these three remaining Big East top runners. You might just be surprised by who wins the Big East, so don’t think WVU and Louisville are locks.

Air Force failed in its comeback attempt after giving Navy a 24-7 head-start. Even though Air Force lived up to its name by throwing it a season-high 19 times to sustain a balanced offense (AFA had thrown it 22 times all year so far up til this game), Navy needed just eight passing yards as 317 rushing yards meant winning the time-of-possession contest on top of team rushing. Air Force had been allowing an average of 65 on the ground coming in. Before this, the last three games between these rivals had been three-point Navy wins. Navy has two tough games against Rutgers and Notre Dame next. With one loss, the Midshipmen look like they can attain a double-digit win total for the second time in three years.

Lagniappe

TCU dropped another as Utah tripped them 20-7 in Salt Lake City. The Horned Frogs are now 11-4 in games after a loss under head coach Gary Patterson. After running their MWC slate in ’05, TCU has yet to win a conference game this season…On an extended four-game skid, Fresno opened the year hopeful to capitalize on last year’s success and garner one of the extra BCS wildcard slots. After falling 13-12 to then-winless Utah State, which had the 117th-ranked offense, the Bulldogs continue to look for signs of life after Paul Pinegar. Since accepting OC Mike Santiago’s resignation, the Aggie offense has changed gears and had presence in two straight…According to our SOS calculations, the team with the toughest schedule is Stanford. The Cardinals have tanked in every game (just lost 31-10 in South Bend), and prospects look like they only have a chance for two wins, at best. Walt Harris has yet to make his guys from Palo Alto look like they can break their streak of four straight losing seasons…East Carolina, in beating Virginia 31-21, has won only five games against BCS-aligned schools since 2000…Hawai’i beat Nevada and is now 3-2. The Rainbow Warriors have the nation’s second-leading passing attack as junior QB Colt Brennan is also second in passing offense. They have definitely found life after Timmy Chang, the NCAA’s all-time career passing leader…Florida International has yet to find a win, but they lead the country in tackles-for-loss with 9.67 per game…New Mexico State leads the nation in four categories - team and individual passing, net punting and punt returns…OSU and UF lead I-A defenses as each has allowed only six TDs…Louisville’s 6’6” sophomore WR, Mario Urrutia, was all-conference as a freshman. He is now third in the nation with 23.82 yards per catch…Boise State has snuck into the top 20 with their 55-14 win over Louisiana Tech. The Broncos have won by 28 in three of their first five and rank in the top 20 for all major defensive categories. Can you say “BCS buster”?