A few weeks ago, folks were wringing their hands about a potential Ohio State-USC rematch in the Rose Bowl.
At that time, the thought was Penn State was going to win out and go to the BCS title game, which meant the Rose Bowl – in an attempt to keep its hallowed Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup – would have selected Ohio State, the presumed Big Ten runner-up, to take Penn State's spot in the game. Prevailing wisdom was that would've meant a rematch with USC.
But everyone was overlooking Oregon State – and Iowa, too. With the Hawkeyes' upset of Penn State, the Nittany Lions now look as if they are Rose Bowl-bound. And so does Oregon State, which fell 45-14 at Penn State on Sept. 6.
The Beavers moved to 7-3 overall and 6-1 in the league with Saturday's 34-21 win over California. The Beavers are at Arizona this week, then close the season Nov. 29 at home in the "Civil War" with Oregon.
Since losing that game to Penn State, the Beavers have won seven of eight, with the only loss a three-point setback at unbeaten Utah when the Utes rallied in the final three minutes. Still, the only impressive win in that stretch for Oregon State was over USC until it beat Cal.
Oregon State is known for its strong finishes. Two seasons ago, the Beavers won eight of their last nine games to finish 10-4. Last season, they won seven of their final eight to finish 9-4. This season, winning nine of their last 10 will get them in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1964. (Winning eight of their last 10 might get them a Holiday Bowl bid. Might.)
And what if the Beavers do go to the Rose Bowl? It makes the BCS mighty interesting.
Oregon State likely would meet Penn State in the Rose Bowl in an unappealing rematch. And let's go on the assumption that a Big 12 South team will meet an SEC team in the title game. That scenario would leave the Fiesta Bowl with an interesting decision.
Potential at-large picks for the Fiesta would be a one-loss USC team, a one-loss Big 12 South team, a two-loss Ohio State team and an unbeaten "interloper" (Boise State or Utah). The Big 12 and Fiesta have a tie-in, so would the bowl pick a Big 12 runner-up to replace the Big 12 champ, which would be in the title game? Or would it take USC or Ohio State – or even unbeaten Boise State/Utah, which would be guaranteed a BCS slot? The Big East champ is another possibility, because the ACC champ goes to the Orange Bowl annually except when it plays for the national title.
The Sugar Bowl then gets the next pick, to replace the SEC champ, which would be in the title game. Would the Sugar take the SEC runner-up, or would it look elsewhere?
Let's say the Fiesta takes the Big 12 runner-up. That would leave the Sugar to pick among USC, Ohio State, the SEC runner-up and Boise State/Utah. It likely would pick the SEC runner-up, especially if it was a one-loss team. (A two-loss SEC runner-up would make things even more interesting.)
Then, it's the Fiesta Bowl's turn to pick again because the bowl is No. 1 in the at-large pecking order this season. (In other words, it's the bowl that picks first after the bowls that lost teams to the title game finish replacing those teams.) There's USC, Ohio State and Boise State/Utah out there – and out of that group, you figure the Fiesta folks take USC, which leaves Ohio State, Utah and the Big East champ for the Sugar. Since Boise State/Utah and the Big East champ would be guaranteed berths, Ohio State would be the odd team out – and would head to the Capital One Bowl.
The bottom line on all this: Each BCS game – not just the Rose Bowl – has a vested interest in how Oregon State finishes the season.
'What ifs?' abound
There already has been a lot of talk about potential BCS rankings for Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech should OU beat Tech this Saturday in Norman – where Bob Stoops has lost just twice as Sooners coach, by the way.
A lot of folks are saying there's no way Oklahoma should be ahead of Texas in the polls because Texas beat OU on a neutral field. But Texas Tech beat Texas, so should Tech remain ahead of the Longhorns? Yes, that game was in Lubbock and, yes, Tech won on the final play. But the Red Raiders still won. And what if the Sooners edge the Red Raiders? That game will have been close and been in Norman. But OU still would've won.
All in all, it makes for a great debate – and the game hasn't even been played.
All systems go
There's no question the SEC is down this season, but league schools still know how to play defense. Well, they know how to play defense against all but one league school: Florida.
The Gators have has outscored their past six SEC foes by a combined 299-63. They scored at least 30 points in all eight SEC games, have won each of their past six games by at least 28 points and averaged 45.7 points against seven league teams ranked in the top 41 in the nation in total defense (Tennessee seventh, South Carolina ninth, Georgia 24th, LSU 27th, Vanderbilt 37th, Kentucky 40th and Ole Miss 41st).
They have one more league game left, the championship game against Alabama, which is No. 3 nationally in total defense.
The offensive barrage might be enough to remind you of the mid-1990s at Florida, when Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense was putting up unreal numbers against overmatched SEC defenses. It also makes you wonder if Spurrier, now the coach at South Carolina, is just a bit wistful about Florida's offensive talent. If you watched the aftermath of Saturday's 56-6 demolition of South Carolina – which hadn't allowed more than 24 points all season – you saw Spurrier meet with Gators coach Urban Meyer on the field and say, "Good luck to you guys. Go win four in a row."
At this time of the year, along with coaching vacancies come coaches who want – and get – contract extensions. Truthfully, though, the extensions don't do anything for a coach's job security. Just ask Tommy Bowden, Phillip Fulmer and Ron Prince; each received an extension within the past year, yet now are looking for new jobs.
There's a huge midweek game, with Ball State playing at Central Michigan on Wednesday in a game that almost certainly will decide the MAC West title. Central rolled last season, but Ball State is one of just five unbeaten teams nationally this season. It's an excellent matchup of quarterbacks, with Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour going against Ball State's Nate Davis. Central has better receivers, but Ball State has the better running game, thanks to MiQuale Lewis (127.3 ypg, 17 rushing touchdowns). Still, LeFevour's running ability makes him dangerous. Central has an OK rush defense but an awful pass defense. Ball State's pass defense has been solid, allowing just seven touchdown passes and coming up with 13 interceptions.
One of the best games Saturday was Oregon holding off Arizona 55-45. They were the highest-scoring teams in the Pac-10 going in and didn't do anything to harm those stats. Oregon led 45-17 at halftime behind three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. But Arizona stormed back and actually cut the lead to 48-45 with 6:38 left. Oregon sealed it on a 40-yard touchdown run by LaGarrette Blount with 3:38 remaining. It was Blount's 15th touchdown of the season, which ties a school record. The victory keeps Oregon (8-3) – which debuted all-black uniforms, complete with black helmets – in the mix for a possible Holiday Bowl invitation. A victory at Oregon State in the regular-season finale Nov. 29 could nail down a Holiday Bowl berth – and also possibly knock Oregon State out of the BCS.
Boston College got a big game from true freshman tailback Montel Harris – 121 yards and a touchdown – in its upset of Florida State. Harris is from Jacksonville Trinity Christian, where he played second-fiddle to touted running back Jamie Harper, who is a true freshman at Clemson this season. Harris has put up far better numbers. He has rushed for 652 yards and five touchdowns; Harper has 133 yards and a touchdown. To be fair, Harper is the third-stringer, behind the talented duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Harris – a two-star recruit who had committed to Duke before signing with the Eagles – is BC's starter.
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
Boston College at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m.: A big game in the ACC, as each still harbors at least faint title hopes. BC has won two in a row – including a win at FSU – after a three-game losing streak. Wake's loss to North Carolina State leaves the Demon Deacons needing a ton of help. This also is important in terms of bowl positioning. These schools aren't exactly enticing to a lot of bowl committees because neither is going to sell a lot of tickets.
Boise State at Nevada, 4 p.m.: This looks to be the final hurdle between Boise State (10-0) and a 12-0 regular season. Nevada leads the nation in rush offense (325.0 ypg) – but the Wolf Pack also are last nationally in pass defense (318.0 ypg). Boise State is 12th nationally in rush defense (103.2 ypg) and 13th in pass offense (286.7 ypg).
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 7 p.m.: This is the second of three games that likely determines the Big East title – and the resultant BCS bid. Cincinnati beat West Virginia in the first game, and Pitt plays host to WVU on Nov. 28. Actually, if Cincy wins this one, the Bearcats all but ensure themselves of the league crown, as only a date with woeful Syracuse remains on their conference schedule.
USF has lost three in a row to fall to seventh in the Big East and a big reason for the slide are Matt Grothe's interceptions. He has thrown eight in the three losses after tossing three in Saturday's beatdown by Rutgers. Grothe, a junior, has 44 career touchdown passes but also 39 career interceptions. In the Bulls' four losses this season, they've rushed for a combined three touchdowns, putting too much pressure on Grothe to make plays with his arm.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl does a great job letting fans inside the bowl's selection process. Each week, there's a selection blog on the bowl's Web site – ironically enough, the Web site is peachbowl.com (the Peach Bowl is the old name for the bowl). Gary Stokan, the executive director of the bowl, does a weekly video news release that's posted on YouTube. And the Chick-fil-A Bowl cow has a profile on Facebook (facebook.com/profile.php?id=762102479).
Some numbers from Saturday: BYU WR Austin Collie had his ninth consecutive 100-yard receiving day in a victory over Air Force; the NCAA record is 11 in a row, by Pacific's Aaron Turner in 1991. Collie leads the nation in receiving yards per game and has 14 TD catches in those nine games. … Give it up for Middle Tennessee and its offensive consistency. In their past five games, the Blue Raiders have scored 21, 23, 22, 24 and 21 points. … Houston's Case Keenum threw for 402 yards in the Cougars' 70-30 rout of Tulsa. It was his 11th consecutive 300-yard game dating to last season's Texas Bowl appearance against TCU. Keenum is second in the nation with 3,794 passing yards. … Clemson has won 14 in a row over Duke at home.