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Archive for October, 2006

Fourth and inches …

►Last week we questioned if the Virginia Tech Hokies were legitimate contenders for the national championship this year…the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets supplied the answer…a resounding 38-27 answer, in the Hokies’ crib, no less. Other undefeated teams that were eliminated from the national championship picture include the Texas A&M Aggies, TCU Horned Frogs, and Iowa Hawkeyes…

►Who stands to be eliminated from the national championship picture this week? Oregon Ducks, California Golden Bears, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Longhorns, LSU Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, Clemson Tigers, Tennessee Volunteers…Why are some teams with one loss included? Quite simply, if you have one loss and you are still in the top-16 at the midway point of the season, you have a realistic shot at the title game…you can’t be eliminated–yet…the loser of the Red River Shootout will definitely be out, as will the loser of the Oregon-Cal game, even though it would be a first for Oregon (because some voters still hold the OU game against them)…LSU will definitely be out with another loss, although Florida won’t if it’s a close game…if LSU blows the Gators out, it’s a different story…Tennessee’s definitely out, but Georgia could survive if it’s a really close game…Clemson cannot afford another loss…that’s why there should be some sort of playoff system to help sort things out at the season’s end…say you have a few undefeated teams and another five teams who suffered one close loss during the course of a 12-game regular season to another ranked team (13 games for the teams that play in a conference championship game)…it’s ludicrous to rely on polls and computers, at that point, to determine a true national champion.

►Yes, there are other undefeated or 1-loss teams in the top 16 slots of the AP poll that I didn’t mention…but, seriously, why bother? Stanford has absolutely no chance at Notre Dame, Bowling Green is toast at Ohio State, and so on…you get the picture. I suppose Arkansas and Washington could give #2 Auburn and #3 USC some scares this weekend, but the Tigers and Trojans are at home and that should be good enough against the Razorbacks and the Huskies this time around…

►As much as I’d like to see an 8 or 16-team playoff instilled in Division-1 with a format that preserves the tradition of the major bowl games, it still is fascinating to watch how the pecking order of the AP poll plays itself out as the season progresses…I use the AP (sportswriters) poll as my guideline because too many voting aberrations have come to light in recent years with the coaches poll. Not that the AP poll is perfect, by any means, but it’s the best we have…in the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at a few of the best playoff format ideas that have been developed.

►Penn State’s Joe Paterno was recently prompted to speak on the issue of the BCS bowls after learning that Michigan coach Lloyd Carr touched upon it during his press conference, according to Josh Moyer, of Penn State’s Daily Collegian. “I would like to have playoffs. I just think it’s a better way to do it,” Paterno said. Apparently, Paterno explained his decision by referring to the BCS situation two years ago when USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all went undefeated. At the time, Paterno was voting in the coaches poll and decided to vote all three teams as No. 1. Needless to say, those in charge of the poll weren’t too happy. “I got a telephone call from USA Today saying, ‘You can’t do that. It’s gonna foul up the computer.’ And I said, ‘I can’t tell you who’s No. 1,'” Paterno explained. “I got another call from someone else who’s connected to the football poll that said, ‘You’ll have to’ — and I said I’m not gonna do it, so forget about it. So, I no longer vote.” Way to go, Joe! It will be a sad day when that man retires from the college football scene.

►This year’s five BCS bowl game lineup is supposed to make it easier for a non-BCS team to fill one of the 10 slots…TCU had the best shot heading into last week before they were manhandled at home by the BYU Cougars, 31-17. Now it looks like the best bet is the Boise State Broncos, but they have a pitifully weak schedule that could hinder their chances…BSU’s opponents have a combined 5-week record of 21-32…that’s a woeful .396 winning percentage…and it is not going to improve much, if at all, as the season progresses…the Bronco’s “signature” wins, if you can call them such, came over an Oregon State Beavers team that will likely end up 5-7 or 6-6 on the year and the Utah Utes who are projecting to be another .500 team this year…the Broncos face the 1-3 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs this week.

►What significance do the numbers 7, 26, and 51 have to the Mountain West Conference? They are the national rankings of three of the most important TV markets the conference is associated with…#7 Dallas/Fort Worth (TCU Horned Frogs)…#26 San Diego (San Diego State Aztecs)…#51 Las Vegas (UNLV Rebels)…remarkably, none of these markets offer the conference’s new channel “the mtn.” Making matters even worse, the conference’s largest fan bases come from the BYU Cougars and Air Force Falcons, and yet tens of thousands of those teams’ fans live outside of the tiny five state footprint where the mtn. is currently being carried…Question: If the mtn. network airs a game, but nobody can see it, does the mtn. really exist?

►TV markets in the western U.S. that serve huge BYU and Air Force fan bases, as well as the rest of the MWC? #2 Los Angeles market…#6 San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose…#12 Seattle/Tacoma…#15 Phoenix…#19 Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto…#24 Portland…#37 San Antonio…#58 Fresno…rankings provided by digitalsyndicate.tv

►There is huge concern that the failure of CSTV and Comcast to properly launch the mtn. by ensuring that it was carried on DISH, DirecTV, and cable distributors throughout the country for this inaugural football season will have a huge effect on the conference teams’ recruiting efforts. More than 522 student-athletes from California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada and Texas are currently found on the rosters of the nine MWC schools…and yet, the mtn. is not available in any of these states…Coaches from several competing conferences, including the WAC, Pac-10, and Big 12, are using this critical problem to recruit against their MWC counterparts…”Son, nobody’s gonna see you play on TV if you’re in that conference…”

►We mentioned last week that Washington State would likely give USC a scare in Pullman…sure enough, although USC prevailed 28-22, the Cougars were in position to launch a “Hail Mary” pass at the close of the game in a bid for the upset…Wazzou still hosts Cal, Oregon and Washington this season…look for them to upset either Cal or Oregon…the Washington game is a bitter rivalry, so anything goes in that one…

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What particular stat line drove Penn State Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno absolutely nuts in the 1989 Holiday Bowl versus Brigham Young? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a complimentary prime rib dinner at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is…Mick Wilcox…Mick was the first to correctly answer the question buried deep in college football archives: When did the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Miami Hurricanes meet for the first time, where was the game played, and what was the final score? The correct answer was Miami beat Nebraska 19-7 on November 30, 1951 in Miami. (Note to Mick: We tried to reach you via email to get your snail mail address, but it was returned as undeliverable…please contact us to collect your prize.)

►Heisman’s Dark Horse…Yes, he’s going to remain in this column as long as he keeps performing at his record-breaking pace: Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois, the #1 ranked running back in Division 1…Signature game versus Ohio State…272 all-purpose yards–172 of those yards coming on the ground, 1 TD…Season Stats: 127 carries, 1,181 yards, 9.3 ypc, 236.2 ypg, 11 TDs…Last week: 353 yards, 3 TDs vs. Ball St…This week at Miami (Ohio).

►By the way, GW…I defended you on ESPN 1000 AM radio in Chicago last Friday afternoon…can’t recall the talk show yahoo’s name who claimed he was a Ball State graduate…but he said no MAC player deserved to win the Heisman…and then you went out and tattooed his alma mater Cardinals for 353 yards…thank you very much.

►Worth the read…Gene Wojciechowski’s “The Sooner the Better” article in ESPN magazine about Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and his repentant father, who will be released from prison this week after eight years…the elder Peterson takes responsibility for his wrong choices that led to drug-dealing and vows to be the best parent he can be from now on…

►Backwards streaks…Colorado Buffaloes are now 0-5…Stanford Cardinal are 0-5. Which team will register a win first? Colorado…it’s really difficult to envision Stanford winning a single game this year.

►Stats Padding Games of the Week: Louisville Cardinals (plus 33) peck the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to death…Ohio State Buckeyes (plus 35) mow down the Bowling Green Falcons…Boise State Broncos (plus 35) stampede the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, and the West Virginia Mountaineers (plus 25) bury the Mississippi State Bulldogs in an avalanche of offensive fireworks.

►Best Games of the Week: Oregon Ducks @ California Golden Bears…Navy Midshipmen @ Air Force Falcons…LSU Tigers @ Florida Gators…Texas Longhorns versus Oklahoma Sooners…Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Iowa State Cyclones…Missouri Tigers @ Texas Tech Red Raiders…Central Michigan Chippewas @ Toledo Rockets…Tennessee Volunteers @ Georgia Bulldogs…Nevada Wolfpack @ Hawaii Warriors…

►Upset specials of the week…North Carolina State Wolfpack over Florida State Seminoles in a Thursday home game on national TV…Iowa State Cyclones over Nebraska Cornhuskers by a whisker…the Cyclones are at home this year and seeking revenge for decades of losses to UN, but especially last year’s 27-20 disappointment in Lincoln.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES: The Bucks solidified their stranglehold on the AP’s Numero Uno position with their demolition of a strong Top 25 Iowa team on Saturday night. Ohio State has now faced three ranked teams on the national television stage and dominated in every contest, clearly laying to rest any lingering arguments about the top slot. Jim Tressel and Co. need to guard against any letdowns along their path to the Nov. 18 showdown with Michigan…both teams should be undefeated at that point…the road trip to East Lansing two weeks from now should be viewed as troublesome, but OSU should be ready as they’ve had the Texas and Iowa road games for experience…this week’s home match-up with Bowling Green would have been more interesting last year when the Falcons fielded a dangerous offense…BGSU is rebuilding this year and hardly competitive even within the MAC.

NO. 2 AUBURN TIGERS: For the second time this season, the Tigers had to sweat out the final play of the game, this time a pass from South Carolina QB Syvelle Newton to All-SEC WR Sidney Rice that could have created overtime had Rice been able to wrest it away from Pat Lee and Eric Brock … fortunately for Auburn, the double coverage prevailed, the ball was batted down, and the Plainsmen survived, 24-17 … earlier this fall, they edged LSU, 7-3 … “We’re not doing to turn our season into apologizing if we win by one or two points,” said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville afterward. “It’s not about style points – it’s about winning games” … Auburn converted several fourth down plays and an unexpected onsides kick, but still had to weather Newton’s best Michael Vick imitation (240 yards passing, 40 yards rushing, including four scrambles for first downs) … it was a satisfying game for Auburn TB Kenny Irons, who transferred to Auburn from South Carolina when he and then-coach Lou Holtz had a falling out … Irons burned the Gamecocks for 117 rushing yards and a touchdown on Saturday … sophomore C Jason Bosley will start at center at home Saturday against 3-1 Arkansas with Joe Cope out with a knee sprain, which means calling plays for the offensive line … “I told him, ‘You are the captain of the ship now,'” senior G Ben Grubbs said he told Bosley. “You have to tell us what to do.'”

NO. 3 USC TROJANS: We called last weekend’s night game in Pullman as one of the Trojans’ toughest conference tests this year and it proved out…the Washington State Cougars had a chance to win on a Hail Mary at the end of the game–that’s how close it was…don’t think less of USC for struggling against Wazzou…the Cougars are a very solid team and will probably knock off one of the other Pac-10 top tier teams before the season is over…WSU’s only other loss was the first game of the season to #2 Auburn…Steve Smith knows when to shine…he had 11 receptions for 186 yards, 2 TDs…J.D. Booty continues to impress with his maturity in the pocket (23-32, 269 yards, 3 TDs, 1 int.)…The Trojans take on a much improved Washington squad this week, but it will be in the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Coliseum…look for the Huskies to show their improvement in this game’s final score versus last year’s 51-24 blowout loss.

NO. 4 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS: East Carolina stacked the line against Steve Slaton in the Mountaineers’ last game on Sept. 23, daring WVU QB Pat White to beat them through the air …. which he did, sort of … White finished with 216 yards and touchdown passes to Owen Schmitt and Darius Reynaud, but it was far from a flawless performance … the sophomore also had three passes Pirated away by the scrappy ECU defense, including two INTs in the end zone … Slaton, averaging more than 160 rushing yards a game, was bothered by cramps on a hot day in Greenville and held to 80, while the Mountaineer defenders choked off the Pirates’ ground game (41 yards) … this week is an almost-homecoming for Alabama native White, a trip to the Gulf Coast to face 1-4 Mississippi State … it could also be a trap for Rich Rodriguez’s team, because the Bulldogs are desperate to win a big game for coach Sylvester Croom.

NO. 5 FLORIDA GATORS: Now, we’ll see if Florida is for real … after avenging a big 2005 loss to Alabama with a 28-13 victory on Saturday, Urban Meyer’s undefeated club has LSU, Auburn and Georgia in succession – not a good time for leading rusher DeShawn Wynn to get hurt … Wynn sprained his right knee against ‘Bama, and Meyer described it as “very, very sore” … if he can’t go against LSU on Saturday (in Gainesville, 3:30 p.m.), backup Kestahn Moore will probably replace him … on the bright side, the Gators will have mercurial freshman Percy Harvin back after Harvin missed the Alabama game with a high ankle sprain … wearing throwback jerseys from the early 1960s, the Gator defense pressured Crimson Tide QB John Parker Wilson into three interceptions – two by Ryan Smith, another returned 70 yards for a score by Reggie Nelson … the offense continued to do just what it took to win, prompting Meyer to say: “Are we averaging 500 yards a game on offense? No. I don’t think that can be done right now” … freshman QB Tim Tebow continued to be a spark off the bench, running for a touchdown, while Leak – known primarily as a dropback passer – set up another score with a 45-yard scamper.

NO. 6 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: Michigan brought the Little Brown Jug home from Minneapolis this weekend with their 28-14 win over the Golden Gophers…it was not an easy victory, but it was decisive–and it was on the road, which builds important experience for the Nov. 18 showdown with Ohio State in the Horseshoe. Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington combined for 8 grabs, 190 yards and 3 TD catches from Chad Henne (17-24, 284 yds., 3 TDs)…Mike Hart churned up 195 yards on 31 carries, including a 54-yarder in the fourth quarter, just to prove he still had some horsepower left…this week’s game at home against Michigan State was looking to be a real firecracker a few weeks ago when State was 3-0, but the Spartans are beginning their traditional mid-season swoon, and it looks like they might be coming to Ann Arbor without the services of Drew Stanton and Javon Ringer, who were both injured in their upset loss to Illinois.

NO. 7 TEXAS LONGHORNS: After devouring Sam Houston State as an h’ors d’oeuvre last week, 56-3, Mack Brown’s Longhorns now face the pivotal game on their schedule – the 101st Red River Shootout with No. 14 Oklahoma in Dallas … Texas has been largely on cruise control since an opening loss to Ohio State, but the Sooners won’t be an easy match …. one of the bright spots in Texas’ demolition of SHS was the play of backup QB Jevan Snead … a true freshman, Snead hit 7 of 8 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown … starter Colt McCoy, meanwhile, has already thrown for 846 yards, but will face a stern test in an OU defense led by All-America LB Rufus Alexander … the loser on Saturday can forget about any hopes for a national title.

NO. 8 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS: No worries for the Cardinals this week against Middle Tennessee, despite some rough patches in a 24-6 victory over Kansas State two weeks ago … MTU was blasted 59-0 by Oklahoma earlier this season, and now takes on another potential national championship contender … QB Hunter Cantwell did what he had to do in relief of the injured Brian Brohm in the K-State game, throwing for 173 yards and a touchdown … with Brohm and star RB Michael Bush on the sidelines (Bush for the season), the real Louisville star has been the defense … led by DB William Gay, LB Nate Harris and DE Zach Anderson, the Cardinal stop unit has permitted only 13 points in the last three games … don’t look for Middle Tennessee to dent that average much.

NO. 9 LOUISIANA STATE TIGERS: JaMarcus Russell for Heisman? … Unlikely, perhaps, but the LSU quarterback could make a strong statement this Saturday by outplaying Florida’s Chris Leak in Gainesville … the 6-6 redshirt junior, whose arm strength is already becoming legendary, shredded Mississippi State in last week’s 49-7 victory, hitting 18 of 20 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns … he has three of the best receivers in the country to work with in Craig Davis, Early Doucet and Dwayne Bowe, and a fleet of solid, if not spectacular, running backs … this is a golden opportunity for the 4-1 Tigers, who will probably catch Florida without starting running back DeShawn Wynn (knee) … but despite the star power of Russell and Leak, this could be an old-fashioned SEC defensive struggle, similar to the Tigers’ earlier 7-3 loss to Auburn … Florida LB’s Earl Everett and Brandon Siler and LSU DB’s LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels are among the best in the country.

NO. 10 GEORGIA BULLDOGS: When senior QB Joe Tereshinski was injured in the Bulldogs’ second game with South Carolina, it hardly seemed to matter – freshman Matthew Stafford stepped in to lead his team to an 18-0 victory, then played well the following week against UAB … but then redshirt freshman Joe Cox had to bail out the ‘Dogs from an unthinkable upset by Colorado, and neither Cox nor Stafford were impressive in last week’s 14-9 escape at Mississippi … now, Tereshinski is able to play again, so the revolving door continues to spin … “There’s a lot of things we’ve got to get better at, probably in a hurry,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt prior to Saturday’s home game with No. 13 Tennessee. “If we don’t, we won’t stay undefeated for long” … so far, it’s been the defense – No. 1 nationally in points allowed — that has carried the Bulldogs, particularly the ferocious play of DE’s Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses … Johnson already has nine tackles for loss and has been named SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice.

NO. 11 OREGON DUCKS: Oregon moved up three slots from last week’s poll on the strength of the impressive 48-13 throttling they gave to the Arizona State Sun Devils on the road Saturday…it was ASU’s worst home loss in six years…the mighty Ducks held Rudy Carpenter to 31% passing (6 of 19, 33 yards, 1 INT) and sacked him 6 times…on Oregon’s side of the ball, Dennis Dixon went 19 of 30, 215 yards and 3 TDs and Jonathan Stewart averaged 11.8 yards per carry (11 rushes, 142 yards)…it doesn’t get any easier this week as the Ducks are on the road versus California…the Bears are seeking revenge for last season’s loss…they look hungry and ready for the Ducks…it’s easily one of the best college games this week.

NO. 12 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH: The Irish toyed with Purdue, building a 28-14 halftime lead en route to a 35-21 final. Brady Quinn went 29-38 for 316 yards and 2 TDs against one of the nation’s worst rated defenses…his usual cast of characters supported the offensive thrust…Rhema McKnight pulled in 10 balls for 120 yards and two scores…Darius Walker had 146 yards on 31 carries and 73 yards on 9 catches…Notre Dame’s weak secondary continues to be exploited as the Boilermakers’ Curtis Painter threw for 398 yards–238 of those going to Selwyn Lymon on 8 catches good for two TDs…The Irish still do not look like a 12th ranked team…they’ll have a field day this week when they host the winless, toothless Stanford Cardinal…Walt Harris’ bunch is on track for an 0-12 season, so Quinn and Co. should be padding their stats on this one.

NO. 13 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS: Saturday’s game at Georgia is one of those Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object confrontations … Vol QB Erik Ainge has been pretty irresistible most of the time this season, averaging 270 yards in total offense to lead the SEC … last week against Memphis, he was 23 of 27 for 324 yards and four touchdowns … WR Robert Meacham, meanwhile, gained 165 yards on the receiving end, and LaMarcus Coker became the third Vol RB this season to rush for over 100 yards … the problem, for Philip Fulmer’s team, is that Georgia is ranked first in the nation in scoring defense … Tennessee’s O-line has done a yoeman’s job of keeping Ainge unsacked, but Bulldog DE’s Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses are both quick, strong and NFL prospects … the key might be Tennessee’s third-down plays … the Vols are converting over 60 percent so far, Georgia is allowing its opponents only 24 percent success in that situation.

NO. 14 OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Forget the Las Vegas line – Saturday’s Red River Shootout versus Texas in Dallas will be all about the OU offensive line … this young unit has begun to jell, and they’ll need to coagulate even more against a fearsome Longhorn defense that is ranked among the national leaders in sacks … two weeks ago, UT sacked supposedly mobile Iowa State QB Bret Meyer seven times and knocked him down on 15 other occasions after he released passes … this clear and present danger will require some nimble footwork by Sooner QB Paul Thompson, who has performed better than expected after being drafted to replace Rhett Bomar, throwing for 930 yards and eight TD’s … WR Malcom Kelly gained an other-worldly 134 yards in receptions in the first QUARTER against Middle Tennessee two weeks ago (a 59-0 rout) … of course, that was Middle Tennessee, and this week he’ll face a veteran Texas secondary led by Michael Griffin … still, Oklahoma has to demonstrate some sort of passing threat to prevent Texas from closing the running lanes to Heisman candidate Adrian Peterson (643 rushing yards this season).

NO. 15 CLEMSON TIGERS: Were it not for a blocked extra point, the Tigers would be a Top 10 team, at least … that cost them a 34-33 overtime loss at Boston College, the one hiccup in an otherwise dominating season … Clemson has gone over 50 points three times this season and topped then No. 9 Florida State, 27-20 … Tommy Bowden’s Tigers are at Wake Forest this Saturday, then feast on Temple before a defining two-game stretch against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech … last week, in a predictable romp over Louisiana Tech, Tiger RB’s James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Demerick Chancellor all went over 100 yards … Davis averaged 13 yards a carry, Spiller 8.5, Chancellor 10.3 … OK, it was Louisiana Tech, but the Tiger offense is still among the top three in the ACC … Wake shouldn’t be a problem if Clemson doesn’t suffer an on-the-road letdown, although the Deacons always seem to play the Tigers tough …. keep your eyes on true freshman Jacoby Ford, perhaps the fastest player in the league, who hauled back a kickoff 94 yards last Saturday.

NO. 16 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: The Bears jumped up five slots in this week’s AP poll after crushing the Oregon State Beavers 41-13 in Corvallis. Cal QB Nate Longshore continues to impress, this time around he went 22-31, 341 yards, 4 TDs, 1 int. Lavelle Hawkins had 6 grabs, good for 128 yards and a score. “That’s the best quarterback I’ve ever played with in my life,” Hawkins said. “Nate is the guy. Nate is the man.” Running back Marshawn Lynch tallied two scores off passes from Longshore…he finished with 59 yards on three receptions, adding 106 yards on the ground for another score (17 carries)…the halftime score was 31-3…the Bears’ defensive front registered four sacks…they’ll need to put that type of pressure on Dennis Dixon of Oregon this weekend in what will be one of the best games in the nation…both teams have crushed ASU the past two weekends with solid defense and relentless passing attacks.

NO. 17 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES: Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles are currently on a winning streak, having scored victories over Rice and Open Date … the 55-7 rout of Rice two weeks ago enabled Bowden to fine-tune his sputtering running game (Antone Smith and Lorenzo Booker both went over 100 yards) and get a little more confidence for struggling WR Chris Carr (a 56-yard TD pass from Xavier Lee) … the following open date was a winner, too, as starting O-linemen Shannon Boatman, David Overmyer and Corey Niblock all healed enough from minor injuries to be penciled in against North Carolina State on Thursday night … the Wolfpack shocked Boston College last week, 17-15, in the first start for sophomore QB Daniel Evans, but State has lost to Akron and southern Miss and barely beat Appalachian State … despite an earlier loss to Clemson (during which the young Seminole defense surrendered three tiger scoring drives of over 80 yards), FSU still has high BCS hopes if the kinks can be ironed out.

NO. 18 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS: Call them No. 18 with a bullet, because the 4-1 Yellow Jackets are definite chart climbers … since playing Notre Dame tough in an opening game loss, the Jackets have established themselves as one of the top teams in a relatively weak year for the ACC … maturity has allowed QB Reggie Ball to augment his physical ability with better decision-making, Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice has emerged as a go-to running back, and WR Calvin Johnson will earn some Heisman votes … in last Saturday’s 38-27 victory over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Johnson had two early TD receptions, including a 53-yarder in which he took a short pass and blew past three VA Tech defenders … GA Tech also beat the Hokies at their own “Beamerball” special teams game, blocking a punt and returning a fumble for a touchdown … this week, it’s 3-1 Maryland in Atlanta.

NO. 19 IOWA HAWKEYES: Saturday night’s home loss to Ohio State was good for a six slot drop in the polls…the closest the Hawkeyes could come to the Buckeyes was four points, twice early in the game at 7-3 and 14-10…the Bucks put the game out of reach after that…Drew Tate was sacked twice and picked off three times… “The run is what killed us,” Iowa cornerback Charles Godfrey said. “They ran the ball down our throats.” Indeed, yielding 226 net yards rushing will make for a long day on the defensive side of the ball…what does Iowa have to look forward to now? They will take on Purdue at home this weekend…but an Oct 21 game at Michigan now looms in the shadows…a loss there would knock the Hawkeyes to no better than a third slot, and possibly a fourth slot in the Big Ten bowl lineup because Wisconsin doesn’t play Ohio State this year.

NO. 20 BOISE STATE BRONCOS: The Broncs kicked a beat up Utah team all over their own crib on Saturday, notching an easy 36-3 win…it was projected to be a tight game, but the Utes, who are now 3-2 (their 3 wins came over teams that have a cumulative record of 2-12) look to be much less of a challenger even within their own conference…Meanwhile, Boise State moves up two slots in the AP poll…they should easily go 12-0 this year, however, a pitifully weak schedule will hamper them with pollsters and should stall out any more significant progress up the poll chart…BSU’s wins are over teams with a combined record of 9-13…their remaining schedule currently boasts a cumulative record of 12-18 with Fresno State at 1-3 looking less and less like a WAC challenger this year…the next sacrificial victim in BSU’s quest for BCS bowl recognition is 1-3 Louisiana Tech…

NO. 21 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES: There was some great special teams play in Blacksburg last Saturday – a blocked punt, a sack that caused a fumble that was turned into a touchdown … the problem was, it wasn’t Frank Beamer’s Hokies who were “special,” but visiting Georgia Tech – and in the process of losing 38-27, the Hokies were exposed as a pretty good but not great team in a down ACC season … new QB Sean Glennon did throw for over 300 yards, but he had to, because the visiting Yellow Jackets thoroughly throttled Tech’s running game … this Saturday, Beamer takes his team to Boston College in a “separation” game for two hopeful but struggling league contenders.

NO. 22 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: You know the Nebraska football team, right? Strong defense, an offense that chews up yardage with its I-backs? If you still think that, you’ve obviously not been paying attention … in last Saturday’s 39-32 overtime victory against Kansas, the Cornhuskers surrendered 544 yards in total offense and allowed the Jayhawks to march 81 yards for the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter … meanwhile, the leading rusher was Marlon Lucky with 40 yards … Nebraska survived because QB Zac Taylor threw for 395 yards and four touchdowns and Cody Glenn scored in OT, but it had to be disturbing to Huskers’ coach Bill Callahan that his team only converted three of 12 third-down opportunities … this Saturday’s game at Iowa State could be a gut-check, because Cyclones’ QB Bret Meyer will test the Nebraska D even more.

NO. 23 MISSOURI TIGERS: QB Chase Daniel has gotten most of the credit for Mizzou’s first 5-0 start since 1981, and the sophomore threw for 253 yards and four touchdowns in a 28-14 Big 12 victory over Colorado on Saturday … when you take a closer look at the stats, though, the Tiger defense was a major factor, holding Colorado to 3 of 12 third-down conversions and stopping them all four times on fourth down … Colorado DB Terrence Wheatley noted afterward that Missouri had such a detailed preview of the Buffalo defense – probably from coaches at Georgia, which played CU earlier — that “They knew what (coverage) we were in every time, I think” … three of Daniel’s TD passes went to tight ends Chase Coffman (two) and Martin Rucker, and he also threw two interceptions … Reality check: So far, Missouri has beaten Murray State, Ole Miss, New Mexico, Ohio U and winless Colorado, not exactly a murderer’s row.

NO. 24 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS: The Scarlet Knights have an weekend off to savor their Top 25 ranking and first 5-0 start since 1976 … then, consecutive games with Navy and Pitt should determine whether Greg Schiano’s team is more than just an early-season feel-good story … Rutgers barely held off South Florida last Saturday, 22-20, by thwarting a two-point conversion attempt, and RB Ray Rice (seven straight 100-yard games) can’t continue to carry the offensive load by himself … look for backfield mate Brian Leonard to get more carries, and QB Mike Teel (just 100 yards passing versus SFU) is going to have to get better.

NO. 25 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES: Weird … unranked Boston College scores an unimpressive 22-0 victory over Maine and is back in the Top 25 again … nevertheless, this week’s game with Virginia Tech will probably define which Eagle team is for real – the feisty overachievers who beat Clemson and Brigham Young in successive double overtime thrillers, or the underachievers who lost to N.C. State and struggled at time against the Division 1-AA Black Bears … one red flag is the gimpy ankle of QB Matt Ryan – given the way Tech defenders fly to the football, he could spend a lot of time on his back … DB DeJuan Tribble, the glue in the Eagle secondary, is also nursing an injury … Tech, meanwhile, is still smarting from last week’s butt-kicking from Georgia Tech.

Fourth and inches …

Title game pink slips were handed out left and right last weekend to former contenders including the Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, LSU Tigers, and Georgia Bulldogs … the Auburn Tigers are almost toast, unless they can throttle the Florida Gators this weekend and win out the rest of the way to claim the SEC title … on the flip side, the Gators could afford to lose to Auburn in a close game, and they’d still have a shot at the national title, depending on how other match-ups play out over the last half of the season.

Who stands to be eliminated from the national championship picture this week? Auburn is the only team facing a stout enough opponent to worry about elimination … any other teams eliminated this week would be considered huge upsets … can you imagine Baylor knocking off Texas, or Cincinnati upending Louisville?  Conversely, a close loss to Michigan State would not knock the Buckeyes out of the title chase, nor would a close loss to Penn State push the Michigan Wolverines out of contention … it sure would make the picture a lot fuzzier, though.

It will be very interesting to see how Michigan reacts to the loss of the Big Blue M&M (Mario Manningham) in their road game against the Nittany Lions.  The Wolverines have enough receiving talent to take care of business at State College … but this should be a close game with the edge going to the team displaying greater mental toughness and the ability to capitalize on turnovers.

One of the better Thursday night games of the season takes place this week when Boston College hosts the Virginia Tech Hokies.  Both teams have a conference loss and cannot afford to lose this contest if they hope to make the ACC championship game … it should be a barn burner … Josh Hyman, the second-leading receiver for the Hokies (13 receptions) has been suspended indefinitely by Frank Beamer for violating team rules and will not play …

Pssst…wanna know who the two yahoos are that are casting first place votes for West Virginia in the AP poll? You can find out the weekly ballots of all the AP voters at: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/external/onlinenews.ap.org/collegefootball_rankings/voters.php

Or, I can save you the time … Kevin Pearson from the Riverside Press-Enterprise and Scott Wolf from the Los Angeles Daily News are the two football writers who actually think a Mountaineer team with zip wins over ranked teams this year should be #1 over an Ohio State team with three quality wins over ranked teams.  Wolf also has a Southern Cal football blog where he posts his weekly AP poll votes and gets ragged on by his readers (www.insidesocal.com)

Did you know that Frito Lay, the largest snack company in the universe, bought the naming rights to the national championship game for the next four years from FOX Sports for their Tostitos brand?  Don’t get confused … this year there will be a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game followed a week later by the Tostitos National Championship game staged in the same venue.

Halloween came a bit early for the Trojans … as if the thriller in Pullman wasn’t enough to send USC fans into cardiac arrest, Troy’s boys did it again to their fans last week—in the Coliseum, of all places—when Washington ran out of time on the Trojans’ 15-yard line as they were driving for the winning score. Now, USC has to face a well-rested Arizona State Sun Devils team coming off a bye week, and anxious to make a statement after their blowout losses to Cal and Oregon. One catch  … ASU’s Dirk Koetter has lost all eleven Pac-10 games he has coached that were played in California.

A tip of the cap to Ty Willingham for the solid turnaround he is engineering at Washington … Coach Willingham is a class act and he didn’t deserve the type of treatment he received from Notre Dame boosters and administrators.

Cal might very well benefit from the USC scare in Pullman two weeks ago. There’s an advantage to knowing that you are shark bait. I guess Wazzu would prefer the term “cougar bait,” but regardless, Cal knows what’s lurking in Pullman and they can take all necessary precautions … it should be a close game, but Cal is beginning to smell the Roses right now and that’s a mighty powerful antidote against a letdown.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What two teams own an undefeated record over the Texas Longhorns (minimum two games played)? The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches

And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is … Chris Kelly, of Indianapolis…Chris was the first to correctly answer the question:  What particular stat line drove Penn State Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno absolutely nuts in the 1989 Holiday Bowl?   The correct answer was Ty Detmer passing for 576 yards, 594 yards total offense (both Holiday Bowl records) in BYU’s 50-39 loss to Penn State.

Heisman’s Dark Horse: Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies … The Wolfe Man actually had a down week with only 162 yards rushing, but he remains tops on my list … Signature game versus Ohio State: 272 all-purpose yards, 172 of those yards coming on the ground, 1 TD. Season Stats: #1 ranked running back in Division 1: 156 carries, 1,343 yards, 8.6 ypc, 223.8 ypg, 13 TDs. Last week: 162 yards, 2 TDs at Miami (Ohio).  This week: at Western Michigan.

Streaking in the wrong direction … Colorado Buffaloes are now 0-6 … Stanford Cardinal are 0-6. Colorado’s overall losing streak of 10 games, which extends to last season, has equaled the longest losing streak in the history of the Buffaloes program (set in 1963-64). I still expect the Buffs to win 2-3 games this season. Stanford has two shots at winning a game this year: this week at home against Arizona and Nov 18 at home versus Oregon State.

BYU’s John Beck was named the Mountain West Conference’s offensive player of the week for the third time in four weeks after going 16-21, 267 yards, and 4 TDs in the Cougars 47-17 rout of San Diego State … the 6’2” 212 senior is looking more and more like a first round draft pick with many of the NFL draft watch lists rating him a top 3 QB prospect.

Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Texas Longhorns (plus 28) stampede the Baylor Bears … Louisville Cardinals (plus 27) drop some bird doo-doo on the Cincinnati Bearcats … Boise State Broncos (plus 26) stomp the New Mexico State Aggies, and the Clemson Tigers (plus 44) chew up and spit out feathers versus the Temple Owls.

Best Games of the Week: Virginia Tech Hokies @ Boston College Eagles … Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ Navy Midshipmen … Ohio State Buckeyes @ Michigan State Spartans … California Golden Bears @ Washington State Cougars … Florida Gators @ Auburn Tigers … Michigan Wolverines @ Penn State Nittany Lions … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ North Carolina State Wolfpack … Colorado State Rams @ Air Force Falcons … Missouri Tigers @ Texas A&M Aggies.

This Week’s Upset Specials … Wyoming Cowboys have a trap set for the Utah Utes. The Cowpokes have a tough defense, they’re battle hardened, and, they are tough to beat in Laramie … It doesn’t seem like much of an upset, since Auburn was #2 just last week, but they are currently nine spots down from Florida and the underdogs at home. I like them to bounce back with a furious effort against the Gators.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES: Another earthquake shook the AP poll this week with huge seismic action knocking some teams like Auburn and Oklahoma down 9 slots, while Cal is thrust upward 6 slots, and Georgia Tech rides the action up 5…and yet, once again, there is stability at the top of the heap with the Buckeyes standing tall as king of the mountain at the midway point of the season…Heisman hopeful Troy Smith and his mates toyed around with the Bowling Green Falcons last weekend 35-7…Smith was 17-20, 191 yards, 3 TD tosses…he left enough game clock for backup QB Justin Zwick to go 4-9, 57 yards…Ted Ginn, Jr. had 10 receptions for 122 yards and a score. Remarkably, Antonio Pittman was held to 61 yards on 13 rushes, although he did have two scores on the day…this week is a tough one, regardless of what anyone might say…the Michigan State Spartans are hurting big time and nothing could salve that hurt like an upset of the number one team in America and conference rival to boot. Beware OSU, you don’t want to toy around with the Spartans…they’re like an injured and cornered alley cat.

NO. 2 FLORIDA GATORS: OK, so Tim Tebow isn’t pretty. The University of Florida fans love the southpaw freshman quarterback, anyway … Tebow only participated in 15 plays in Saturday’s 23-10 victory over LSU (a game in which the Gators were slight underdogs at home), but accounted for three touchdowns — one on a short scoring run in which he moved LSU’s 500-pound-bench-pressing linebacker Luke Sanders backward, the other on touchdown passes to Tate Casey (a “jump pass” that looked like something out of a bad football movie) and Louis Murphy … the Gators actually won the game during a two-minute stretch to open the third quarter … first, the normally reliable Early Doucet fumbled a kickoff, was then leveled by Riley Cooper while trying to pick it up, and LSU was forced to fall on the ball in the end zone for a safety … the Tigers then had to give the ball back, and Tebow hit Murphy from 35 yards out five plays later … the Florida defense, bolstered by the return of DT Marcus Thomas (back after a lengthy suspension for flunking a drug test) took over from there … the Gators continued to demonstrate that they have one of the best secondaries in college football, with Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith (a Californian who transferred to Florida from Utah when Urban Meyer switched jobs) seemingly always around the football … Florida QB starter Chris Leak had a decent game, 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards, but did little to better his Heisman chances … and despite their now-lofty poll position, the Gators can’t get too high, because their next assignment is to face an angry Auburn team on the road Saturday.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS: There’s an old adage that goes, “what doesn’t hurt you makes you stronger…” and the last two weeks of scares from Wazzou and the Washington Huskies should ultimately make the Trojans a better team down the stretch…at least that’s the theory Pete Carroll is telling his boys…injuries are certainly taking their toll on the talent rich USC squad…some back-ups have been failing to fill their assignments as ably as expected…John David Booty was a mere 23-40, 243 yards with a score and a pick against UW…kicker Mario Danelo was the real star of the game with four field goals providing separation on the score board’s final tally…the Arizona State Sun Devils come limping into Los Angeles Coliseum this week after two humiliating losses to two other ranked Pac-10 foes…they’ve had two weeks to rest up and prepare for USC and an upset win would turn their season around in a hurry…

NO. 4 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: The Maize and Blue raced to a 17-0 halftime lead over instate rival Michigan State…built it up to 31-7 after three quarters in route to a thoroughly convincing 31-13 final score…enough to push them up two slots from last week’s poll…the big loss of the weekend could be wide receiver extraordinaire Mario Manningham who racked up three grabs good for 75 yards, 2 scores, and a leg injury that now leaves him unfit for duty versus Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend. Chad Henne was a “quiet” 11 for 17, 140 yards and three scores…RB Mike Hart logged 122 yards on 22 carries…it was a very workmanlike victory with the Wolverine defense continuing to stand strong against the rush (net 73 yards by the Spartans)…This week’s road clash with Penn State will be an incredible test of Michigan’s willpower…the Nittany Lions are always tough at home and they are revenge minded from their only loss last year–an improbable last-second thriller the Wolverines managed to pull off. Losing Manningham for this weekend’s game will do one of two things to the Wolverines…psyche them up, or psyche them out…

NO. 5 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS: That old expression “rules are meant to be broken” doesn’t apply to football … not when you’ve got a team of zebras standing watch with flags at the ready, as West Virginia’s fifth-ranked team found out Saturday in Starkville, MS … actually, coach Rich Rodriguez could have taken it as a plus that his team was penalized 134 yards for 11 different infractions and still beat Mississippi State 42-14, but he didn’t see it that way … “We had some guys who played outstanding,” he said, “and other guys who just don’t get it” … as usual, Steve Slaton, Pat White and Owen Schmitt got it — the football, that is … amidst the flurry of flags (including roughing the passer ands roughing the punter penalties), the three-headed monster that is the Mountaineer offense chugged along as usual … Slaton was particularly effective, rushing for 185 yards and a touchdown and reeling off nine runs of 10 yards or more … White was 6 of 10 passing for 92 yards and ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns, fullback Schmitt scored twice .. West Virginia now hosts Syracuse and travels to Connecticut before its pivotal meeting with Louisville on Nov. 2.

NO. 6 TEXAS LONGHORNS: Obviously, the balance of power has tipped a bit in the Big 12, as Texas won its Red River confrontation with Oklahoma for the second straight year, 28-10 … this game was won upfront, with All-America candidates Lyle Sendlein (C), Kasey Studdard (G) and Justin Blalock (T) opening holes for Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young and keeping Rufus Alexander and friends away from redshirt freshman Colt McCoy … McCoy seems to be progressing nicely, and one wonders how a Texas-Ohio State game might play out now … the game was a coming out party for Texas DB Aaron Ross, starting only his third game … Ross had eight tackles, two interceptions, and returned a fumbled lateral by Adrian Peterson for a touchdown…credit Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, as well, for making adjustments that held Peterson to 38 yards in the second half … now, the Longhorns have to guard against complacency — after hosting surprising Baylor this week, they go to Nebraska and Texas Tech the following two Saturdays.

NO. 7 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS: Bobby Petrino’s team had a couple of scares during a 44-17 Friday night rout of Middle Tennessee, but both were fleeting … the Cardinals fell behind 10-3 on an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown from MTSU’s Damon Nickson and a Colby Smith field goal, but Hunter Cantwell threw two touchdown passes to 6’6″ Mario Urrutia, the second a back-breaking 25-yarder with just two seconds left in the first half … the other scare for Louisville, which already has starting QB Brian Brohm out with a hand injury, came when Cantwell was hit in the first quarter and came up favoring his knee … “My knee bent really weird, and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is not good,”‘ Cantwell said. “It was sore for a little bit, but I got back up on it and it was fine” … Brohm has resumed throwing in practice, and might be ready for the pivotal West Virginia game, if not before…meanwhile, the Cardinals have Cincinnati and Syracuse in between.

NO. 8 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS: Poor Tennessee. Its offensive line was supposedly banged up, its top running back was coming off an injury, and the Volunteers had to travel to Georgia last Saturday to face the top scoring defense in America…well, you can hold the pity party… with walking (and blocking) wounded O-linemen Arron Sears and Anthony Parker leading the way, the Tennessee forward wall guarded QB Erik Ainge like the Secret Service, dominated the line of scrimmage, and deserved a collective game ball in a 51-33 victory … even more impressive was the fact that Tennessee spotted the home team a 24-3 lead … Ainge threw for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns, RB Arian Foster scored three touchdowns — one for each game he had missed with an injury — and the Tennessee defense snapped up four turnovers … the Vols can’t celebrate for long, though, because the next four games are crucial — at home against Alabama, to South Carolina, home against LSU, and then on the road to suddenly resurgent Arkansas … still, with only 17 seniors on his roster, Volunteer coach Philip Fulmer should manage to keep his critics at bay for the foreseeable future.

NO. 9 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH: We are still asking ourselves why the pollsters would give Notre Dame a three-slot lift after a lackluster 31-10 home game win over the hapless 0-6 Stanford Cardinal? There are more worthy teams below the Irish in the poll and time should bear this out…the Golden Domers get two weeks off to prepare for the UCLA Bruins who will be without the services of their starting QB for the next six weeks thanks to an MCL tear…we doubt UCLA will be able to bring their “A” game to South Bend…but look out for a very tough Navy team on the road the week after…as we’ve said before, the Notre Dame schedule is a virtual cakewalk until they play USC, but a land mine or two on that yellow brick road to L.A., thanks to the armed forces football programs (Air Force on the road, Nov 11) just might derail any more delusions of the Irish fighting their way back into the national championship scene this season.

NO. 10 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: Cal’s mercurial rise from #16 to the Top Ten following their impressive dismantling of the Oregon Ducks just goes to prove that an early loss in the season to a ranked team will usually not ruin your national title hopes…redshirt soph QB Nate Longshore continues to mature and produce (14-26, 189 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, and one rushing TD)…his vast array of weaponry forces opponents to pick their poison…DeSean Jackson (2 grabs, 77 yards, 1 TD)…Justin Forsett (27 rushes, 163 yards, 1 TD, 6.1 ypc)…Marshawn Lynch (7 carries, 50 yards, 7.1 ypc)…most impressive stats in the big Quack Crasher? Cal’s defense picked off Dennis Dixon three times while also managing to hold the remarkable Jonathan Stewart to 25 yards on 18 carries–a career low 1.4 yards per carry average…the Bears are flying high again, but there’s an early Halloween fright night planned for them up in Pullman this weekend…just ask USC.

NO. 11 AUBURN TIGERS: How do you counter a defense that is small, super quick and boasts one of the best secondaries in the country? You run the ball, and that’s precisely what Arkansas did in handing the Plainsmen a 27-10 setback–at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, no less–on Saturday … using tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones as blunt instruments, the Razorbacks made 36 of their final 38 play calls running plays … meanwhile, the Arkansas defense swarmed around star Auburn tailback Kenny Irons, limiting him to 75 rushing yards on 15 carries (23 of that on one run) … it also helps with Auburn if you take the lead, thus forcing QB Brandon Cox to throw … knowing that, the Arkansas DL eventually shifted its attention from Irons to Cox and sacked the Auburn QB five times … its national championship hopes perhaps fatally wounded, Tommy Tuberville’s team now has to go back to the drawing board to correct some of the flaws that the Hogs exposed … and that has to happen quickly, because Florida comes to town this week.

NO. 12 CLEMSON TIGERS: You remember the limerick: “There once was a lady from Niger, who smiled as she rode on a tiger; they came back from the ride with the lady inside, and the smile on the face of the tiger” … so it was with Wake Forest on Saturday … even as late as the third quarter, it looked as if the then-undefeated Demon Deacons were going to hand Clemson a third straight loss at Groves Stadium, as Wake took a 17-3 lead on a Sam Swank field goal … earlier, they had burned the Tigers on a beautiful trick play, WR Nate Morton (a former quarterback) pulling up short on an apparent reverse and hitting QB Riley Skinner with a touchdown pass … but Clemson DE Gaines Adams jarred the football loose on another Wake field goal attempt, this one muffed, and galloped 66 yards to the distant end zone…then Will Proctor, who did not have a good game, hit Aaron Kelly with a 30-yard touchdown pass, true freshman RB C.J. Spinner squirted through a seam like a watermelon seed being spit out and raced 72 yards for another score, and the smile was on the faces of the Tigers … plusses for Clemson, which has the chance to take center stage in a jumbled and confused ACC, were the emergence of Stiller and a defense that held Wake 31 yards rushing … a concern was the play of Proctor, who misfired badly on some key first-half passes and admitted: “That’s probably the worst game I’ve played since Pop Warner” … the Tigers will gnaw on hapless Temple this Saturday, then host Georgia Tech next week.

NO. 13 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS: At one point on Saturday, with Clemson two touchdowns in arrears of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech trailing Maryland, the question had to be asked: “Uh, does anyone want to win the ACC title?” It turns out Georgia Tech does … after fourth quarter touchdowns by Reggie Ball and Tashard Choice gave the Yellow Jackets a 27-23 lead, a long pass play took the Terps to the GA Tech seven yard line with a minute left … 6-7, 250-pound Yellow Jackets’ sophomore Michael Johnson then forced an intentional grounding call on Maryland QB Sam Hollenbach, followed by a sack of Hollenbach on fourth down to end the game … Georgia Tech, now 5-1, will take a bye week before traveling to Clemson on Oct. 21, a game that could be the signature regular-season match-up in the league this year … for Tech, Saturday’s comeback had to be a confidence-builder … Choice, a transfer from Oklahoma, continues to improve — he had 135 rushing yards Saturday …. that certainly beats watching Adrian Peterson from the bench.

NO. 14 LSU TIGERS: Is Florida really a better football team than LSU? Maybe, but it wasn’t as if the Gators dominated Les Miles’ team last Saturday…the Tigers gave Florida a safety when Early Doucet fumbled the second half kickoff, another Gator score was set up when Jessie Daniels fumbled a punt, and the normally reliable JaMarcus Russell coughed up the football on the Florida two-yard line when the ball was apparently snapped to him on an unexpected count … by getting behind early, the Tigers were unable to use their running game, and Russell was intercepted three times by a quick and opportunistic Florida secondary … still, LSU outgained Florida in total yardage, 318-288 and in passing, 228-191, and the Gators had only a narrow lead in rushing, 97-90, despite the fact that the visitors hardly ran the ball in the second half … turnovers were the difference — and with two losses, LSU will have to take a gut check to get back in the SEC West race … the Tigers still have Tennessee and Arkansas on their schedule.

NO. 15 IOWA HAWKEYES: Kirk Ferentz managed to guide his Hawkeyes safely away from post-game depression following the Ohio State loss, soundly whipping the Purdue Boilermakers 47-17…Drew Tate was a cool 17 for 23, 253 yards and 2 scores…RB Damian Sims got the call and delivered on the ground with 155 yards and 2 scores off 20 carries…Adam Shada set an Iowa record by returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown…Iowa lost three of four fumbles, but Purdue couldn’t capitalize…next up: a road game against the Indiana Hoosiers…IU is vastly improved from last season and should put up a bit of a struggle…the Hawkeyes will need to guard against looking beyond this week toward their huge game at Michigan on Oct 21.

NO. 16 GEORGIA BULLDOGS: So much for that feared Georgia defense, which was leading the nation in points allowed … with a seismic explosion in the second half, the Tennessee Volunteers sent the second coming of the Junkyard Dogs to, well, the junkyard, 51-33 … Tennessee simply had too many weapons, even Between the Hedges, and Georgia’s quarterback problems were once again laid bare … “When you have three quarterbacks,” the saying goes, “you really don’t have any” … the beloved Joe Tereshinski tried valiantly, but his first-half stats were inflated by at least three circus catches by his receivers of less than crisp passes … Georgia took a 24-10 lead at halftime and pulled off two long scoring returns (Mikey Henderson 86 yards with a punt, Thomas Brown 99 with a kickoff), but couldn’t overcome four turnovers … defensive ends Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses, considered the best duo in the country, rarely got close enough to UT QB Erik Ainge to bother him … Ainge was sacked only once, on a safety blitz by Tra Battle that someone forgot to pick up … the Bulldogs also had problems stopping the run, allowing Arian Foster to score three times…Georgia has two very winnable games (Vanderbilt and Mississippi State) in which to work out the kinks before it has to play Florida …. Is Tennessee really that much better? Probably not, but for a team that supposedly lives or dies with its defense, those 51 Volunteer points had to be ominous.

NO. 17 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS: “We want people to respect us,” said Arkansas TB Darren McFadden prior to Saturday’s game with Auburn … mission accomplished: McFadden rushed for 144 yards (including a 63-yard touchdown) and fellow tailback Felix Jones added 104 and another score as the Razorbacks upset Auburn, 27-10 … it was the first victory by an unranked team over a Top 10 team this season, and put Arkansas in the hunt for a berth in the SEC championship game … the Hogs used the run almost exclusively in the second half, which not only hogged big chunks of clock, but kept the exposure to freshman QB Mitch Mustain to a minimum … Mustain did just enough to keep the Tigers honest, hitting 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Marcus Monk … meanwhile, defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Keith Jackson led a ferocious rush that sacked Auburn QB Brandon Cox five times … the rest of the schedule is favorable to Houston Nutt’s team, which rewards itself with a cupcake (Southeastern Missouri State) this Saturday and has both Tennessee and LSU at home…the trap game might be a Nov. 4 trip to South Carolina.

NO. 18 OREGON DUCKS: The Ducks met their match in Berkeley last weekend and dropped seven spots in the AP poll following Cal’s convincing 45-24 victory. That’s what happens when you go on the road, fail to establish any semblance of a running game, and end up minus three in turnover margin against a quick-strike opportunistic offense. Oregon will need to regroup and develop a solid game plan for the UCLA Bruins this week…the Uclans are 4-1, hungry for Pac-10 respect, and injured at the most visible position on the field…the Ducks cannot afford to get caught up in looking beyond this game to their showdown with USC on the road next week because the Bruins are a lot more talented than they are being given credit for this season…and a loss against UCLA means settling for a lesser bowl game in December.

NO. 19 MISSOURI TIGERS: A funny thing happened on the way to Missouri’s first loss in the Big 12 on Saturday — it didn’t happen … after the No. 23 Tigers had taken a 24-0 lead on No. 25 Texas Tech, causing Red Raider coach Mike Leach to briefly bench QB Graham Harrell … Harrell returned (presumably after being chewed on by an angry Leach) to throw two quick touchdown passes at the end of the first half and another in the third quarter … stopping Tech’s wide-open offense when it gains momentum is like preventing a 747 from taking off, and thousands of Missouri fans were no doubt muttering, “Here we go again” … somehow, though, the feisty Tiger defense regrouped, resumed its pressure on Harrell, and won going away, 38-21…freshman QB Chase Daniel continued to play well, defensive ends Brian Smith and Xzavier Jackson are emerging as one of the top pass rushing combos in the Big 12, and Mizzou is now 6-0 … “We want people to question why Missouri is ranked that high,” said Jackson afterward. “Why? Why?”…after Saturday, they can just ask Graham Harrell, who was harassed into five turnovers…the bad news for Gary Pinkel’s team is the remaining schedule–at Texas A&M this week, then Oklahoma, then at Nebraska.

NO. 20 BOISE STATE BRONCOS: Two teams in the Top 25 won their games and remained locked into their previous poll position…yes, Boise State was one of them, Rutgers the other…that tells you the level of respect the pollsters have for these programs and the weak schedules they have played so far this year. Rutgers’ schedule will become more difficult with two Top Ten ranked teams coming up…the Broncos, on the other hand, face a schedule that only becomes weaker. Look for BSU to run up the score like they did last week versus the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 55-14…that’s their only hope of drawing some pollster attention away from the traditional powerhouse programs. We think BSU is right about where they should be…it’s difficult to envision them moving beyond a #14 slot before the end of the regular season…

NO. 21 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Memo to the rest of the Big 12–don’t let Nebraska get an early lead … Iowa State allowed itself to fall behind 21-7 on Saturday, and Bill Callahan’s team simply used its big offensive line and I-backs Cody Glenn and Brandon Jackson as a combine, rolling up and down the field as Brett Meyer and his Cyclone offensive teammates sat on their hands (for the game, the Cornhuskers kept the football for 37 minutes) … it was almost a day off for Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, who threw only 21 passes … Taylor still became the fourth Nebraska QB to go over 4,000 yards for his career … amazingly, the 100-yard games by Glenn and Jackson were the first by a Nebraska back in a Big 12 game since 2004 … now 5-1, Nebraska travels to Kansas State this Saturday before hosting Texas on Oct. 21.

NO. 22 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES: The M.O. for Frank Beamer’s Hokies is well-known — strike quickly, often with special teams touchdowns, grab an early lead and then go after the other team’s quarterback with a vengeance…after a 38-27 loss to Georgia Tech two weeks ago, the Hokies now know how the other guys feel…the Yellow Jackets blocked a punt, scored on a fumble return and took a 21-0 first-quarter lead that basically took Brandon Ore and the running game out of Beamer’s arsenal … rookie QB starter Sean Glennon did throw for 339 yards, but Tech was never able to catch up…after a bye week, 4-1 Tech now travels to 4-1 Boston College to continue a spirited rivalry that was transplanted to the ACC from the Big East…V. Tech now trails Georgia Tech by a game in the relatively weak Coastal Division of the ACC and can’t afford another loss … plus, a victory in Chestnut Hill would be Beamer’s 400th … he currently ranks third among active Division 1 coaches…Tech is 12-1 in Thursday night TV games.

NO. 23 OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Oklahoma’s 28-10 loss to Texas was eerily similar to the simultaneous LSU-Florida game to the east … the Sooners outgained the Longhorns 333-232 in total yards, including a 209-108 edge in passing … they also converted 9 of 16 first downs to 3 of 10 for the winners…the killer, as with LSU, was turnovers — five, including a weird play late in the game in which Adrian Peterson thought he had dropped a pass, only to have Aaron Ross scoop up what turned out to be a fumbled lateral and score the last touchdown…”I was sitting there like, ‘What the, you know, is going on?'” Peterson sad later … Oklahoma fans were probably asking themselves the same question … as for Peterson, who gained 109 tough yards? … “Give him the Heisman,” said Texas linebacker Robert Killebrew. “He deserves it” … Bob Stoops’ team plays its next two games at home, Iowa State and Colorado, before traveling to Missouri.

NO. 24 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS: When the unbeaten Scarlet Knights (5-0) travel to Navy (5-1) this Saturday, expect a quick game…both teams run the ball very effectively, and both have quarterbacks who have been erratic in the passing game, to say the least … Rutgers’ Mike Teel has two touchdown passes against six interceptions, while Brian Hampton of the Middies–primarily a runner–has actually produced negative passer ratings twice this season…Ray Rice has put up nice numbers for the Scarlet Knights so far — 806 yards, 11 TD’s…Hampton has rushed for 10 Navy touchdowns…if one of these teams gets a big early lead and puts the pressure on the opposing quarterback to throw, it could be over early…there is a video screen in Times Square touting Brian Leonard of Rutgers for the Heisman, but so far the senior fullback hasn’t gotten as many touches as in the past…that could change against a swarming Navy defense…the Middies would love to be ranked, and they probably will be if they win on Saturday.

NO. 25 WISCONSIN BADGERS: Wisconsin enters the AP poll for the first time this season following their 41-9 win over the Northwestern Wildcats…the Badgers really lucked out with their Big Ten schedule this year (no Ohio State game) and overall, aside from a road game at Iowa on Nov 11, we can see this team easily reaching 10-2…worst case scenario would be 9-3, if they lose at home to Penn State. This is your typical Wisconsin team…not a lot of flash and dash…they seek to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball…their offensive line is nasty and wears down opponents…there always seems to be another NFL-bound ball carrier popping up, and this year the spotlights are shining on true freshman P.J. Hill, Jr., a 5’11”, 242 pound bruiser (who reminds you of Ron Dayne)…he rushed 35 times last week for 249 yards and a score. Against Michigan a few weeks ago, the versatile frosh back had 54 yards rushing and 64 yards receiving…The Badgers’ senior QB, John Stocco, is experienced and poised in the pocket and presents a dangerous alternative to the running game.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. The Buckeyes went on the road to East Lansing last weekend and dispatched a battered and bruised Spartan squad with 38-7 efficiency. It was the type of performance you expect to see from the number one team in the nation, but college football, as we well know, can provide its share of surprises…not, with this Ohio State team…at least, not until Michigan comes to town on Nov. 18, and then, a win by either team will not be a surprise. They are both that hungry and that good this year…Troy Smith got a boost in his Heisman hopes when NIU’s Garrett Wolfe was held to 25 yards rushing…Smith, meanwhile, just keeps plugging along. Against Michigan State, he turned in a workmanlike performance (15-22, 234 yards, 2 TDs) but what the stats don’t show is how effective he is in using all the weapons at his disposal. Although he isn’t running the veer option, his ability to cut loose and run is always a threat to the defense…one can’t help but be reminded of the great Ohio State quarterback, Cornelius Greene, who was largely overshadowed in his day by Archie Griffin. The Buckeyes entertain an improved Indiana Hoosiers team this weekend. Indiana managed to knock the Iowa Hawkeyes out of the AP poll last weekend with a 31-28 home victory.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. Forget how close the score was against the Penn State Nittany Lions…if you can go into JoePa’s House when his troops have bloodthirsty revenge on their minds and emerge victorious, you are the real deal. It doesn’t get any easier this week with an Iowa Hawkeyes team coming to Ann Arbor…this is a Hawkeyes team that has nothing better to do than to lay it all on the table. Iowa is hurting something awful after choking on the road against Indiana…their game this week against the Wolverines is for self-respect and a shot at a second tier bowl game versus a complete failure in their season’s goals and a third-rate ho-hum bowl invite…but, wait, this is Michigan’s space…who wants to hear about the Hawkeyes? The fact is, Iowa is still dangerous, and this game is not a pushover for the Wolverines. This game represents the last big hurdle Lloyd Carr’s team has to face before they hit a 3-game tune-up stretch (Northwestern, Ball State, Indiana) leading up to the showdown with Ohio State. Michigan fans should be rejoicing this week’s game is in the Big House because the Wolverines traditionally struggle against Iowa on the road.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS. The Trojans dodged another bullet for the third week in a row of conference clashes. There are a couple things to be learned from USC’s struggles the past few weeks. 1) The Pac-10 is stronger across the board than last year. 2) USC is weaker across the board (thanks to a plethora of key injuries) than last year. Washington State, Washington, and Arizona State can give any team in the country a run for their money on any given Saturday…and, when you’re playing against the conference bully, you typically bring your A game…And that’s exactly why this week’s road trip to Corvallis is not going to be as easy as it might look on the schedule. The Beavers went to Seattle last weekend, knocked the sensational Husky QB, Isaiah Stanback, out for the season and escaped with an impressive win. They will be fired up when the Boys from Troy come to town this Saturday. It just might be a nail-biter. The Trojan offense will need to be clicking on all cylinders if they hope to avoid an upset.

NO. 4 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. The talk has already started — could West Virginia be this year’s Auburn, left out of the BCS title game despite an undefeated record? Probably not—not if Rich Rodriguez’s Mountaineers keep winning like they did Saturday, a 47-14 romp over Syracuse…sure, West Virginia currently stands fifth in the BCS standings behind Ohio State, Southern Cal, Michigan and Auburn, but either Ohio State or Michigan has to lose (they play each other), Southern Cal still has Cal, Oregon and Notre Dame to face, and West Virginia can alleviate much of its strength-of-schedule problems by beating No. 7 Louisville in their upcoming Big East throwdown…the added BCS bowl game also helps, of course, and other factors in the Mountaineers’ favor include a resounding victory over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl and the fact that with White, Steve Slaton and Darius Reynaud, they’re just so much fun to watch…of course, getting to the Big One won’t be easy…the Mountaineers have to play at Louisville, which now has QB Brian Brohm back, and face a trap game at Pitt two weeks after that before finishing at home against Rutgers…still, the Mountaineers are looking more and more like those old Nebraska teams that relied on speed and power instead of finesse and thus hardly ever had a bad game…this week, Rodriguez’ squad travels to Connecticut, which shouldn’t be a problem…Question: What is it about WVU fans that seems to inspire opposing quarterbacks to give them the old one-finger salute? Last year it was Marcus Vick of Virginia Tech; this year, Perry Patterson of Syracuse.

NO. 5 TEXAS LONGHORNS. Redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy was firing on all cylinders against Baylor Saturday — all six of them…McCoy threw a UT record six touchdowns passes as Texas exposed Baylor as just another Big 12 wannabe, shrugging off an early 10-0 deficit to bury the Bears, 63-31…actually, it could be argued that Baylor played better than last year, when it lost to Texas 62-0…the Longhorns not only won big, but they embarrassed star Baylor cornerback C.J. Wilson, who had loudly predicted an “I-35 surprise” (i.e., Baylor upset)…Wilson missed a tackle on a 62-yard TD pass to Billy Pittman, fell down on another long scoring connection to Limas Sweed, and was outjumped in the end zone by Texas TE Jermichael Finley…nevertheless, Baylor scored on its first play from scrimmage, a 67-yard bomb from Shawn Bell to Trent Shelton…Ryan Havens then added a field goal on the next possession as the Bears confused McCoy for the first three series with a three-man rush before adjustments were made…Texas travels to No. 17 Nebraska this Saturday.

NO. 6 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. The Cardinals’ 23-17 victory over Cincinnati had to be a little worrisome to coach Bobby Petrino on a couple of counts…for one thing, the Cardinals had trouble stopping UC’s running game, which conjures up disturbing images of West Virginia’s Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt…moreover, they had trouble mustering up a ground attack of their own, putting a lot of pressure on an admittedly rusty Brian Brohm, back at quarterback after missing several weeks with a thumb injury…Brohm completed 20 of 35 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown, but some of the ones he didn’t complete were uncharacteristically off-target for the normally deadly accurate Louisville QB…”I made those throws all week in practice,” Brohm said, “and I should be able to make them in a game”… the Bearcats drove down to the Louisville 22 in the dying moments of the game before Bearcat QB Dustin Grutza threw four straight incompletions in the end zone.

NO. 7 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. The next four weeks will decide if the Vols are a national championship contender or just a feel-good comeback story…presumably refreshed by an open date (although coach Philip Fulmer might have preferred to keep the momentum from the come-from-behind victory over Georgia on Oct. 7 going) UT now hosts Alabama, travels to South Carolina, hosts LSU and travels to Arkansas…with Heisman Trophy contenders falling by the wayside, a continued strong team performance might at least get Vol QB Erik Ainge (1,657 passing yards, 14 TDs, a 69 percent completion percentage) an invitation to New York…moreover, Tennessee’s three-headed running back (LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster) has gained 749 yards and scored eight touchdowns…and if the prolific pass-catching duo of Robert Meacham and Jayson Swain wasn’t intimidating enough, No. 3 receiver Bret Smith has 20 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns…the question mark is the defense, which lost key starters Justin Harrell (DR) and Inky Johnson (CB) early in the season.

NO. 8 AUBURN TIGERS. How often do you beat the No. 2 team in the country without scoring an offensive touchdown? Not very often, but that’s what Auburn did to Florida on Saturday, topping the Gators 27-17 in a quintessential “closer than the score indicates” SEC war…Florida’s defense, led by Brandon Siler, Jarvis Moss and Marcus Thomas, pretty much throttled Tiger stars Brandon Cox and Kenny Irons, but turnovers and special teams play kept Auburn hanging around until Tre Smith scored on a blocked punt and Patrick Lee dashed 20 yards to the end zone with a fumbled lateral on the last play of the game … Auburn also produced a safety on a rare call (holding on a Florida lineman in the end zone) and got four field goals from John Vaughan …during the first half, though, Florida’s quirky offense made the Tiger defenders look like cardboard cutouts, racking up 13 first downs on the first 18 offensive plays…still, teams that survive the grueling SEC season are teams that adjust, and that’s what Tommy Tuberville’s squad did…nor did it hurt that starting LB Trey Blackmon returned after a six-week suspension…two of Auburn’s last five games — Tulane and Arkansas State — are probably breathers, which leaves a trip to Ole Miss, a home game with Georgia and the traditional closer with up-and-down Alabama…running the table is not out of the question, which could lead to an Auburn-Florida rematch in the SEC title game.

NO. 9 FLORIDA GATORS. If nothing else, you had to give Florida coach Urban Meyer and QB Chris Leak points for class…one of the key plays in a 27-17 loss to Auburn was a questionable fumble call on Leak (was his arm going forward, or not?) deep in Tiger territory with the score 18-17…”Obviously, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field,” Meyer said. “We have to live with it and get better”… it wasn’t a good game for Leak, who is no longer being mentioned in Heisman chatter…besides the fumble, he fed a fourth-quarter interception to Eric Brock by throwing into obvious coverage when pressured by Auburn’s Quentin Groves, who had three sacks…it could be that teams are getting wise to a strange Gator offense in which the top rushers last Saturday were wide receivers Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell and backup QB Tim Tebow …starting tailback DeShawn Wynn did return from an injury, though, and the Gator defense still looked like one of the top three or four in the country…the Gators now have a bye week to lick their wounds (do alligators lick wounds?) before the annual cocktail party/football game with Georgia…after that comes Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Western Carolina and Florida State, all very winnable…and Florida still has a two-game lead over fading Georgia in the SEC’s East division.

NO. 10 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. Notre Dame had the week off to rest up and prepare for the UCLA Bruins and dropped one spot in the AP poll…UCLA looked to be a good test at the beginning of the season, but the Bruins are banged up and limping into this match-up…most notably, UCLA will be without their starting quarterback Ben Olson. They have dropped two Pac-10 games already, so their hopes for a Pac-10 title have already been dashed with five conference games still remaining. What type of challenge can the Fighting Irish expect from the Bruins? Let’s put it this way…if UCLA can shut down the N.D. offense early, the Bruins can make a game of it. They have a lot of fight in them, despite their injuries, and aside from the disastrous first quarter at Oregon last weekend wherein they gave up 20 points, the Bruins made a game of it. Outside of the season ending game at USC, this is really the last chance for Brady Quinn to impress the Heisman voters…Notre Dame has a string of games coming up versus the service academies and a pitiful North Carolina team (currently 1-5).

NO. 11 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Cal won their first game in Pullman, Washington since 1979 and although it wasn’t pretty (21-3) the fact the Bears’ defense held Wazzu to three points in their own crib is astounding. On top of that, Washington rides into Berkeley this weekend without the services of clutch senior QB Isaiah Stanback…that should have a crippling effect on the Huskies’ offensive attack. Everything is starting to come together nicely for the Golden Bears with their schedule…it should be smooth sailing between now and the showdown with USC on Nov. 18…that game should be for all the marbles in the Pac-10. Right now, Cal is showing up in the #10 slot for the BCS and Jeff Tedford is imposing a no-comment policy about the Bears chances…you’ll recall the debacle of two years ago when a higher ranked Cal team was one-upped by Mack Brown’s pleas for Texas to gain a BCS berth.

NO. 12 CLEMSON TIGERS. Maybe Tommy Bowden’s team has the wrong cat for a mascot…with Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller on the squad, they could be the Cheetahs instead of the Tigers…both true freshmen and products of Florida, where speed isn’t just found at Daytona, Ford and Spiller are two of the fastest players in the country…Ford has been clocked at 4.12 in the 40 and 10.3 in the 100 meters, and Spiller is just a tick behind with a 10.4 100 meter time…in last Saturday 63-9 destruction of Temple, Spiller ran for a pair of touchdowns and Ford contributed a 55-yard scoring reception from Will Proctor and a 49-yard kickoff return…two weeks ago, Spiller broke Wake Forest’s back with a 72-yard touchdown run…”He’s got tailback running skills and wide receiver hands,” said Bowden of Spiller, who was also recruited heavily by Southern Cal…Ford, meanwhile, has helped fill in for the injured Chansi Stuckey at wide receiver…”Chansi Stuckey might be the hardest-working practice player we have,” Bowden said, “but Ford is right behind him”…Clemson hosts Georgia Tech in a key ACC matchup on Saturday…Tiger DB Ray Ray McElrathbey was recently named “Person of the Week” by the ABC Nightly News…he took custody of his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, when their mother developed a crack cocaine habit.

NO. 13 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. As the teams behind them in the ACC’s Coastal Division continue to pile up like a rush-hour fender-bender, the Yellow Jackets have opened up a two-game lead…that gives Tech a loss to burn — a good thing, since Chan Gailey’s team travels to No. 12 Clemson this Saturday amidst the hoopla of ESPN’s Game Day … the Jackets haven’t been winning convincingly, but they’ve been winning, thanks in large part to the continued improvement of QB Reggie Ball and the intimidation factor of tight-end-sized (6-5, 235) wideout Calvin (Can Receivers Win the Heisman?) Johnson … Tashard Choice has proven a serviceable running back, Ball has cut down on his interceptions, and the Jacket defense has done what it’s had to do…Tech easily handled Open Date last week.

NO. 14 LSU TIGERS. It didn’t take watching game films for Kentucky coach Rich Brooks to identify the core problem in Saturday’s 49-0 loss in Baton Rouge…”We were not covering tightly, and we had no pass rush,” he said…this, of course, made the outmanned Wildcats fast food for a bigger cat named JaMarcus Russell, who hit 15 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns to Dwayne Bowe…the game clearly demonstrated two recurring points: 1. LSU is a very good team; 2. Kentucky really doesn’t belong in the SEC…Les Miles’ squad is unbeaten down on the bayou, outscoring its five imported opponents 236-30…unfortunately, the Tigers’ toughest four games–Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas–are all on the road…whomever made up that schedule should be fed to the LSU mascot.

NO. 15 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. Maybe Mitch Mustain isn’t ready, after all …the word was that the celebrated freshman from Springdale just needed a little time to ease his way into the rugged SEC schedule, but then Mustain was just 5 of 13 passing against outgunned Southeast Missouri State last weekend…it didn’t really matter, of course, as running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Michael Smith (don’t you love a backfield of Smith and Jones?) and a fired-up Razorback defense had their way with the Redhawks, but when coach Houston Nutt finally inserted former starter Casey Dick, he went 8 of 9 with two touchdowns …h-m-m-m: quarterback controversy? Just give the ball to McFadden and Jones…despite possessing one of the best names in college football today (wide receiver Oge Oge) SMSU was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time…Arkansas has a good shot at winning the West division, but still has to play South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU…nor can Nutt’s Razorbacks afford to look past neighborhood rival Ole Miss this weekend.

NO. 16 OREGON DUCKS. Under normal circumstances, last week’s 30-20 win over UCLA would have been considered impressive. In fact, it was a rather sloppy game for the Ducks who gave up two turnovers and allowed the Bruins to claw their way back into the game after amassing a 20-3 first quarter lead. Dennis Dixon was 10-17, 144 yards, 2 TDs as a passer, and he also gained 69 yards on 11 carries. Jonathan Stewart banged out 121 yards on 20 carries to pace the rushing attack. The Ducks venture into Pullman this weekend and could very well run into a buzzsaw…the Cougars are not a happy bunch right now and they are dangerous on their home turf.

NO. 17 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS. Maybe this is a new era for Bill Callahan’s team…on Saturday, Nebraska won in Manhattan, KS, for the first time since 1996, a 21-3 victory over Kansas State…were it not for the Huskers’ early-season euthanasia of a kennel of dog opponents, one could make a strong argument for the premise that Callahan’s team is vastly under-ranked…after all, Nebraska’s only loss was to No. 3 Southern Cal, 28-10…that will all sort itself out this Saturday, however, when Nebraska hosts No. 5 Texas…the first touchdown against the Wildcats was a pass from Jake Wesch to Hunter Teafatiller…you’re asking: “Who?”…OK, Wesch is the holder on field goals and a former high school quarterback, Teafatiller is a backup tight end, and the play was a fake field goal…later in the first half, regular QB Zac Taylor scooted 24 yards on a fourth-down bootleg to set up his own short TD pass to Josh Mueller, and Nebraska had all the points it needed…meanwhile, the Cornhuskers’ Blackshirt defense swarmed all over K-State running back Leon Patton like fire ants, holding him to 12 yards in 13 carries…Wildcat QB Josh Freeman, like Patton a freshman, threw for 272 yards but was picked off twice…wonder if Callahan has any trick plays up his sleeve for Texas?

NO. 18 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. The Broncos moved up two ticks on the poll with their 40-28 win over New Mexico State Aggies. The Aggies piled up 526 net yards passing on Boise State, exposing the Broncos’ Achilles heel. There really is only one test left on the BSU schedule…that’s a season-ending road game at Nevada. Ian Johnson rushed for 192 yards and four first-half touchdowns for Boise. Next up, the ever dangerous (not) Idaho Vandals, a WAC team that gave up 121 points to their three non-conference opponents earlier this year. Look for the Broncos to keep piling on the scoreboard in an effort to impress pollsters that they are in a league of their own out west. In reality, they are, because the WAC is without a doubt, the weakest D1-A conference, save the Sun Belt.

NO. 19 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. So far this season, both Rutgers and Pitt have managed to avoid playing anyone any good…that will change on Saturday, when they face each other in Pittsburgh…the last time Rutgers started out 6-0, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were campaigning for the presidency (1976)…last week, the Knights got a huge break when Navy QB Brian Hampton–the engine of the Middies’ potent wishbone offense–went out with a knee injury, thus leaving Navy dead in the water…one encouraging note was that Rutgers QB Mike Teel, who has been mostly an appendage to RB’s Ray Rice and Brian Leonard this season, threw three touchdown passes in the 34-0 victory…the Rutgers defense, which has been tough all season, will have to contend with Pitt QB Tyler Palko (second in the nation in passing efficiency) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (shouldn’t he be playing for the North Carolina State Wolfpack?) a tiny tailback who has morphed into Garrett Wolfe the last two weeks.

NO. 20 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. The injury on Saturday to Heisman contender Adrian Peterson sent a message–or should have–to running backs everywhere: Don’t dive into the end zone if it’s not necessary… Peterson did that as an exclamation point to his 53-yard touchdown run against Iowa State, broke his collarbone and will be out for at least the rest of the regular season…later, the week got even worse for Sooner coach Bob Stoops–leading tackler and team captain Rufus Alexander was arrested after an early Monday morning disagreement with police (doesn’t anyone have curfews any more?) and starting wide receiver/return man Reggie Smith is on crutches…ordinarily, the good news would be that OU gets Colorado this week, but the Buffaloes upset Texas Tech on Saturday and might be coming out of their funk…Allen Patrick, who has all of 62 yards rushing this season, will step in for Peterson.

NO. 21 WISCONSIN BADGERS. If you haven’t heard of P.J. Hill, Jr. by now, you will. The 5’11”, 242 pound freshman running back ran for 164 yards on 25 carries, with two TDs last week against Minnesota, and he’s now the #2 rusher in the nation behind Garrett Wolfe, with a 144.4 per game average. The media have anointed Hill as the second coming of Ron Dayne because of his bulldozer-like blasts through the line of scrimmage. The Badgers are flying high right now and will take their show on the road to Purdue this weekend. If they are for real, and we have every reason to believe they are, as evidenced by their road game at Michigan earlier this year and subsequent demolitions of every other opponent they have faced, the Boilermakers should fall and Wisconsin should move up a slot or two in the polls.

NO. 22 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. A lot of college football fans would be hard-put to name anyone on the BC roster, but the Eagles just keep winning–last Saturday, a 22-3 throttling of Virginia Tech…earlier, Tom O’Brien’s team handed Clemson its only loss and beat a strong Brigham Young squad, both in double overtime…BC has a capable quarterback in Matt Ryan (who, almost anonymously, leads the ACC in several passing categories) a solid running back tandem in L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender and G Josh Beekman, a projected first-round NFL pick, but the real star has been a swarming, feisty defense led by Brian Toal, Jamie Silva and JoLonn Dunbar…of course, most of the media attention after the Tech game went to walk-on kicker Steve Aponavicius, a soccer guy who had never played football at any level, was pressed into action when former starter Ryan Ohlinger got into a bar fight (apparently sparked by taunts that he was a lousy kicker) and knocked home two field goals…BC is second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but still has to travel to Florida State and Wake Forest.

NO. 23 TEXAS A&M AGGIES. There was a big reason why A&M knocked Missouri from the unbeaten ranks last Saturday, and his name is Jorvorskie Lane…after A&M took its final lead, 25-19, on Michael Goodson’s two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the Aggies used the 270-pound Lane to play keep-away, bashing him repeatedly into the middle of the line as he devoured most of the fourth quarter as if it were a large pizza…the big (no, huge) sophomore finished with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown, while sophomore QB Stephen McGee completed 19 of 23 passes…it was the first home victory over a ranked team under coach Dennis Franchione, who currently occupies one of college football’s hottest seats…last year, the Aggies were bad when they were supposed to be good; this year, it seems to be the other way around…indeed, with games upcoming against Oklahoma State and Baylor, A&M could be 8-1 entering a season-ending minefield–Oklahoma, Nebraska, at Texas.

NO. 24 MISSOURI TIGERS. Welcome to reality, Chase Daniel…after leading the Missouri Tigers to a 6-0 record and a No. 19 ranking, the talented freshman quarterback saw his 2006 sand castle fall apart with a loss at Texas A&M…”Any time you lose, it’s frustrating,” Daniel said…how would he know? His high school team in Texas never lost, either…Saturday’s setback wasn’t Daniel’s fault, however–with the Tiger ground game a non-starter, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 190 yards…nor was it Daniel’s fault that WR Will Franklin showboated a bit on what would have been a long touchdown pass and had the ball punched out of his grasp by a fast-closing defender…no one could accuse Tiger coach Gary Pinkel of playing it too close to the vest, either, as he tried a fake field goal late in the fourth quarter that failed…now bloodied, Mizzou still has to play Oklahoma, Nebraska and arch-rival Kansas.

NO. 25 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. Deacon Blues, indeed. A loss to Clemson two weeks ago was supposed to have exposed the then-unbeaten Deacons as a fraud, but Jim Grobe’s team promptly rebounded with a 25-23 victory over North Carolina State…it’s not necessarily a good thing when your star player is a place kicker, but Sam Swank was money in the bank, connecting from 51 yards and 53 yards (twice) as Wake won at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh for the first time in 10 years… State drove deep into Deacon territory at the end of the game, but Josh Gattis made a clutch interception to preserve the victory…the Deacons should savor this one, because Boston College and Florida State loom on the horizon…then again, maybe the Deacs are for real, after all.

Fourth and inches …

►The shakeout among contenders and pretenders continued in full force with surprise upsets ruling the weekend…the Indiana Hoosiers stunned the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Vanderbilt Commodores upstaged the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time in twelve years…both Iowa and Georgia were jettisoned from the AP Top 25 poll, as was Virginia Tech after the Hokies dropped their second consecutive game, this time to ACC rival Boston College…they’ll all be fighting and clawing their way back into consideration for upper tier bowl game invites the rest of the season…Auburn’s defeat of the Florida Gators settled virtually nothing…both teams remained in the top 10 and are still in the hunt for a berth in the national title game.

►With the first BCS poll released on Sunday it should be apparent to fans that SOS (strength of schedule) matters and margin of victory does not…USC’s three close shave victories meant nothing to the BCS computers except that they were wins…conversely, Boise State’s avalanche-like scores over cupcake opponents registers faintly on the BCS Richter scale…

►If you happened to see the highlights of the Saturday Fight Night game pitting Miami and Florida International…do you really think the Hurricanes are being punished by suspending a handful of players for their BIG game against the Duke Blue Devils? What a joke…now, if this was basketball we were talking about, the loss of any one player versus Duke would be a stiff punishment. It’s hard to imagine that the University of Miami administration will allow Larry Coker to remain head coach beyond this year…this isn’t the first incident…remember when the Hurricanes stomped on the Louisville Cardinals logo at midfield and a fight almost broke out between the teams before that game? Two Miami players have issued public apologies…Soph Anthony Reddick for swinging his helmet as a weapon, and senior captain (captain?) Brandon Meriweather for stomping on FIU players’ legs with his cleats during the fracas…I wonder if Coker will allow Meriweather to remain a captain of the team after he has served his one-game suspension?

►The Sports Illustrated curse… Does it exist? Three weeks ago, Houston Cougars QB Kevin Kolb was highlighted as one of the top overlooked signal callers in the college ranks…since the article appeared, previously undefeated Houston has dropped 3 straight games to fall one game behind Tulsa in the C-USA West Divisional race and far-far away from consideration in the AP Top 25…statistically, the 6’3″, 225 Kolb has not been the problem…he’s gone 64-97, 722 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INT during the three losses…on the season he has 16 TD tosses against only 1 INT…Still, great stats mean virtually nothing without the wins…

►BYU QB coach, Brandon Doman, a former standout Cougars quarterback and a valuable recruiter for the Brigham Young program, said recently on Salt Lake’s 1280 AM The Zone that the Mountain West Conference’s lack of television exposure will eventually affect recruiting…as we’ve pointed out before, the nine MWC football programs have a total of 522 players on their rosters this season who hail from key recruiting states California, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Nevada…MWC fan boards are beginning to joke about the conference’s poorly launched “The mtn.” channel, with its tiny, intermountain footprint now being known as “The Pmpl.” (short for The Pimple)…How is it that the Big Ten Channel had a deal with DirecTV wrapped up a year before their launch next summer, while CSTV/Comcast cannot manage a satellite deal for “the mtn.” with a ready-to-go product? Quite simply, CSTV/Comcast has over-valued the sub fees for “the mtn.”…the Sat companies and many cable providers won’t budge at the current asking price.

►More problems with CSTV/Comcast and “the mtn.” In an effort to appease irate fans throughout the conference, CSTV began selling access to single games via an Internet Pay-Per-View offering…$14.95 advance price, $19.95 day of the game…I purchased an advance “ticket” to the BYU-San Diego State game to test out the technology…the result was a message that kept popping up on my screen that indicated the server was overloaded. When I called the CSTV customer service hotline, a message said all their operators were busy…this went on for well over an hour…by halftime, the score was 40-3 in favor of BYU…Fortunately, CSTV did refund for their lack of service…there were actually some people on the SDSU and BYU message boards who claimed to have watched the game online thru the service. The bottom line is that CSTV/Comcast needs to nail down a deal with at least one of the satellite TV services during this football season or the conference will begin to crumble…

►In just one weekend, three season ending injuries have dramatically impacted the outlook for three teams…Washington lost super playmaker QB Isaiah Stanback (#2 total yards in the Pac-10) and the Huskies could very well fall short in their quest to attain upper tier status in the conference and a significant bowl invite…Adrian Peterson’s ill-advised showboat dive into the end zone following a spectacular touchdown run left him with a broken collarbone, and out for the rest of the regular season…Oklahoma will struggle to replace AP’s offensive contributions the rest of the year, perhaps as early as this week when the Sooners host the Colorado Buffaloes…Stanford lost starting QB Trent Edwards for the season…all of the sudden, the prospect of the Cardinal going 0-12 this season appears even more realistic…

►More threes…three coaches on the hot seat? Obviously, Miami’s Larry Coker…add ASU’s Dirk Koetter to the list…and another Pac-10 coach…Stanford’s Walt Harris…sure, Harris is only in his second year, but the San Francisco Chronicle points out that Ted Leland, the A.D. who hired Harris, is gone, and the new A.D. is anxious to make his mark…not a good sign when you’re on the road to an 0-12 record and the Chron starts spreading such an idea…

►A playoff scenario I like… because it maintains conference affiliations with traditional bowl game partners…allows for 10 teams to participate…and it utilizes the major bowls that not only have the expertise of hosting national championship games, but the power to make this idea happen…here’s how it works:

Cotton Bowl and Holiday Bowl host play-in games to reach the final eight…the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the Top 15 final BCS poll and be a conference champion from the MAC, WAC, MWC, C-USA, or Sun Belt. Historically, you will note that there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool…the other three slots are filled by the highest ranking teams that are not conference champions…this includes Notre Dame, and any team, regardless of conference affiliation. In a season like this year, you would conceivably end up with this type of play-in scenario:

December 25
Holiday Bowl: Michigan or Ohio State versus Boise State: Winner goes to Sugar Bowl
Dec 26
Cotton Bowl: Auburn or Florida versus Notre Dame: Winner goes to Fiesta Bowl

Your final 8 slots would look like this:

Jan 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion versus Pac-10 champion
Orange Bowl: ACC champion versus Big East champion

Jan 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion versus Holiday Bowl winner
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion versus Cotton Bowl winner

Final 4 slots:

Jan 7
Rose Bowl winner versus Fiesta Bowl winner, with Rose and Fiesta alternating each year as host for the semi-final
Jan 8
Orange Bowl winner versus Sugar Bowl winner, with Orange and Sugar alternating each year as host for the semi-final

The host site for the national championship game would alternate between the four sites each year…this means that each major bowl site would host a final 4 game two of every 4 years, a national title game once every four years, and sit out once every four years…

National title game:

Jan 14 or 15
Winner of the Jan 7 and Jan 8 games

This only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played…one key addition to this scenario that adds vitality to the other bowl games…Each conference’s previous season bowl game record could add bonus points to their conference champion’s BCS final tally the following year…this gives all the teams playing in minor bowls extra incentive as they could be helping their own cause the following year.

Next week: A look at the most popular 16-team playoff scenario.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What is the motivational reminder on the yellow sign that Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players always touch before running onto the field? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a limited edition, collectible pin from the 2006 National Championship Rose Bowl Game between Texas and USC. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is…Rich Grabmeier, of Shawnee, Kansas…Rich was the first to correctly answer the question: Who are the only two teams to own an undefeated record over the Texas Longhorns (minimum two games played)? The correct answer was Syracuse and BYU. Syracuse is 2-0-1 against Texas and BYU is 2-0. Several participants answered “USC with a 4-0 record,” forgetting that the Trojans lost in the Rose Bowl Game national title contest earlier this year to Vince Young & Co.

►Heisman’s Dark Horse Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies…The Wolfe Man has officially been placed on probation in this column after being shut down by Western Michigan last week (25 yards on 18 carries) It’s hard to argue against Ohio State’s Troy Smith at this point, but I’ll give GW one more chance … Signature game versus Ohio State…272 all-purpose yards–172 of those yards coming on the ground, 1 TD…Season Stats: #1 ranked running back in Division 1…174 carries, 1,368 yards, 7.9 ypc, 195.4 ypg, 13 TDs…This week: Temple.

►Stats Padding Games of the Week: Arizona State Sun Devils (plus 23) over Stanford’s hapless Cardinal…Auburn Tigers (plus 32) devour the Tulane Green Wave…LSU Tigers (plus 32.5) maul the Fresno State Bulldogs…

►Best Games of the Week: Texas Longhorns @ Nebraska Cornhuskers…Rutgers Scarlet Knights @ Pittsburgh Panthers …Alabama Crimson Tide @ Tennessee Volunteers…Boston College Eagles @ Florida State Seminoles…Iowa Hawkeyes @ Michigan Wolverines … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Clemson Tigers…

►Upset specials of the week…I like the Washington State Cougars to pull off the improbable win over the Oregon Ducks…just because they are due to win a big one at home…Colorado went down to Georgia and almost pulled off an upset a few weeks ago…I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed playing on the road at Oklahoma, and now that they have a win in hand, I look for them to knock off an Oklahoma team that is still a bit stunned from losing Adrian Peterson for the season.