It is that special time of the year. That time when everyone’s best thought out predictions for the season get put to the test, unless they’ve been ripped apart already. This past weekend something happened for the first time in almost five years: the BCS number one and two teams lost on the same day. On that day five years ago it was a Big 12 team in the middle of a Cinderella season on top and a wild offensive machine second in the country, just like this past weekend. Back then it was the Missouri Tigers and West Virginia Mountaineers who went down, this past Saturday it was the Kansas St. Wildcats and the Oregon Ducks.
Bill Snyder‘s dream of a national championship went up in flames this past weekend in a matter much more brutal fashion than it did in 1998. On the road against the Baylor Bears, the Wildcat’s usually fine defense finally ran out of gas as Nick Florence & the Bears’ running attack simply torched them to the tune of 52 points and just under 600 yards of offense. The silver lining for Snyder and his Wildcats is that a win in their final game would still give Snyder the Big 12 title and an automatic spot in a BCS bowl game. Hopefully this is what gives Florence his own legacy at the university outside of being the other quarterback on the sidelines when Robert Griffin III played there.
I wrote last week about the road to the national championship being a lot more potentially treacherous for the Ducks than most believed. Turns out, they didn’t even have to leave home. This past weekend it was an overtime loss against the Stanford Cardinal that took the Ducks’ destiny out of their hands. It didn’t necessarily knock the Ducks out of the national championship hunt, but they now need things to happen to get back what they lost Saturday night.
The Cardinal used their defense and it played stupendously in containing the Ducks’ offense, their running game in particular. A great rush defense finally went up against the Ducks and it came to play, allowing only 198 rushing yards. The Ducks’ defense, to their credit, came to play too as the Cardinal offense rarely had a productive drive, only scoring at the very beginning and end of regulation. Thankfully for them, that was the only time they needed to score to keep the game tied as the usual second half outburst from the Ducks was non-existent.
For the Cardinal, it’s finally the time to give this team the proper respect. They’ve always seemed a little lower in the polls than they deserved to be as the season has moved along as well as a team that didn’t seem to be taken seriously by the nation as a whole. With this win, they are now officially taken seriously by all who didn’t coming into this past weekend.
Speaking of unappreciated teams: the UCLA Bruins clinched a spot in the Pac 12 title game this past weekend by earning sweet, sweet revenge on the USC Trojans for the Trojans’ 50-0 demolition of the Bruins last year. For a little bit, it looked like the Bruins were going to return the favor in kind.
The Bruins stormed out to a 24-0 lead barely one quarter into the game with scores on their first four possessions while the Trojans’ defense looked sluggish and uninspired, seemingly defeated before the game was over. It turned out to be a case where rain beginning to really fall in the Rose Bowl was when the Trojans woke up and began to play the kind of football people are used to seeing out of them.
The Trojans got back into the game with a scoring streak of their own, one that was capped off by a wacky fumble early in the second half that was recovered in the end-zone for a Trojans touchdown. At the time, that made it a three-point game with basically an entire half of football left to play.
What happened then was the teams going back and forth with scores until one team did something to give themselves some distance from their opponent. It happened late in the game, but it turned out the Bruins were the team that were able to finish this game off. They did this by knocking Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley out of the game (and the upcoming game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish apparently) on a sack, and followed it up with a field-goal block that prevented the Trojans from making it a one-score game with less than two minutes to play.
Congrats all around go to Jim L. Mora and the Bruins for not only playing above and beyond all expectations coming into this season, but winning this big game in particular, their big rivalry game and one that nobody would have been surprised if they hadn’t won it. But they did. And in an ironic bit of fate and scheduling, the Bruins’ reward for such a win is they basically can decide who they are going to play in the conference title game this weekend. By the time the Bruins play the Cardinal on Saturday, the result of the Ducks’ game with the Oregon St. Beavers will be known. By that point, the result of the Bruins’ game will determine whether they play the Ducks or the Cardinal again the very next week for the conference title.
The LSU Tigers dodged a big bullet this past weekend with a late win over the Ole Miss Rebels in a shootout. The Rebels played a tremendous game in keeping the Tigers’ defense off balance all game, though the Rebels’ defense didn’t fare any better. The key to this one was a terrible coaching decision late in the game by the Rebels to attempt a 53-yard field-goal instead of going for a short punt and attempt to pin the Tigers down deep in their territory. The kick missed and the Tigers had a little more than half the field to go on their way to the game-winning score.
The main reason this game is worth nothing was Les Miles‘ tidal wave of emotion at the post-game press conference. From intensity to almost tearing up, to no-nonsense, to gleeful at the game he had just coached in, it was Les’ show. Some may think it was crazy or Miles flipping out, but I loved it, absolutely loved it. It seemed so real, and so much like a coach that does care would be like after a game the likes of which the Tigers had just been in. At that point, all you have is your emotion. And the emotions of a football coach can go just about any way, and the situation doesn’t always mean much.
Did the Mountaineers’ plunge into the abyss continue against the Oklahoma Sooners? Yeah, and in dramatic fashion too. Moving on…
One last thing I’d like to get to would be the Utah St. Aggies‘ win over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to take control of the WAC with just a game to go. Not only was the game a high-scoring, high drama, overtime affair, but thanks to the win, all the Aggies have to do to clinch sole possession of the conference title is defeat the Idaho Vandals this Saturday.
The reason I feel the need to mention this game is because it is proof that the WAC can be compelling without the Boise St. Broncos. This year’s conference race with the Aggies, Bulldogs, and San Jose. St. Spartans has three teams that can finish the season with ten wins fighting for the conference title and it isn’t a BCS automatic qualifier conference, the MAC, or the Mountain West. It’s a conference that was known for one team for much of its history (BYU Cougars) and has been known for only one team (the Broncos) during the past decade. But now it seems to have new faces at the top, and they are playing good football.