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Archive for November, 2006

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. We think the host of football columnists expressing shock at Ohio State’s close game on the road at Illinois is a bit of a joke…if you’ve followed the Fighting Illini over the season, you’ve seen a team that is starting to jell on a number of fronts, albeit they’ve been breaking in a freshman quarterback…that QB, Juice Williams, is going to be another Troy Smith-type impact player during his tenure in Champaign, and you heard it here first…Illinois will be a serious challenger for the Big Ten crown next year. So, back off the Buckeyes…they built up a 17-0 lead in the first half, took their foot off the gas pedal, and slipped into a complacent mode. The 17-10 finish was a good wake-up call that will serve them well against a young Northwestern team that is improving dramatically and will also be a serious Big Ten challenger next season. If anything might have been affected by the close shave with Illinois, it would have to be Troy Smith’s Heisman possibilities. He has two conference games left to restore himself as the leading candidate.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. The aforementioned columnists who were making hay out of Ohio State’s close game with Illinois were the same who expressed dismay that Michigan allowed the Ball State Cardinals to hang around and make their contest a thriller of sorts. What they failed to mention was that Lloyd Carr had pulled most of his starters after building up a 31-12 lead early in the second half. Carr decided to leave his backups in the game a bit too long while Ball State scratched its way back into the game. Again, this type of game will only help strengthen the Wolverines for the rest of the season. This week’s game at Indiana is sort of like playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Which Indiana team is going to show up this Saturday? The one that smacked Michigan State around 46-21, or the one that the Minnesota Golden Gophers roughed up 63-26? Plan on both Michigan and Ohio State meeting each other on Nov.18 with unblemished records.

NO. 3 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. Pat Forde of ESPN.com made a good point in an online column this week … “When Texas and USC racked up 1,130 yards and 79 points in the Rose Bowl,” he wrote, “it was considered one of the greatest games ever played. When Louisville and West Virginia combine for 1,018 yards and 78 points, it’s the result of atrocious defense” … in other words, as Rodney Dangerfield used to say … well, you know what he used to say … still, Bobby Petrino’s Big East squad is No. 3 in the BCS standings and the AP poll, with games left with No. 15 Rutgers, Pitt, South Florida and Connecticut … and either No. 1 Ohio State or No. 2 Michigan has to lose on Nov. 18 … Brian Brohm was devastating in a 35-24 victory over then-No. 3 West Virginia, throwing for 354 yards, and he gives the Cardinals a primetime player for a national audience to watch … the only thing Louisville lacks is tradition … oh, yes, and Michael Bush (imagine if he was still playing).

NO. 4 TEXAS LONGHORNS. Texas fans might have gotten a little worried when their team scored first against Oklahoma State on Saturday … after all, that was breaking tradition — the Cowboys had drawn first blood in the six previous meetings, only to lose all six … last year, for instance, Texas turned a 28-0 deficit into a 47-28 runaway … this time around, however, the 36-10 UT victory was relatively routine, except for freshman Colt McCoy breaking the school record for touchdown passes with 27 (passing Chris Simms and Vince Young) … for the day, he was 23 of 29 for 346 yards, and treated the feat with his usual “aw, shucks” demeanor … and to think he was the Longhorns’ third choice as their top quarterback recruit two years ago, behind Mark Sanchez and Ryan Perrilloux; the Longhorns can lock up a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game by beating Kansas State next week.

NO. 5 AUBURN TIGERS. With star tailback Kenny Irons alternating weeks between clutch runner and spectator, the Tigers are literally limping toward the finish line … only Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule, both games quite winnable … yet because Arkansas beat Auburn earlier this season, Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers’ only hope is that the Razorbacks stumble against both Tennessee and LSU … this is an example of how rankings don’t always make sense … Arkansas beat Auburn and is a game up on the Tigers in its division … both teams have one loss, yet the Hogs are ranked six notches lower … the problem, from Arkansas’ point of view, is that its opening-game blowout by Southern Cal put the Hogs in an early hole … back to Irons: his injured ankle still hurts, but he said he’s “not going to think about it” when he plays against Georgia on Saturday … and are the Bulldogs really as bad as they’ve looked recently?

NO. 6 FLORIDA GATORS. Two major distractions confronted Urban Meyer’s team this week — the dismissal from the squad of DT Marcus Thomas and a stabbing incident involving sophomore WR Nyal Boateng … Thomas had been suspended earlier for substance abuse issues that apparently resurfaced … Boateng, meanwhile, was stabbed in the leg by his girlfriend … as if all that wasn’t enough, former Gator coach Steve Spurrier brings South Carolina to the Swamp this weekend … the talented but underachieving Gamecocks are out of the SEC race, but will no doubt be motivated to get their coach a special victory … if Florida wins, the Gators will have just Western Carolina and Florida State left on their schedule and an outside shot at a BCS title berth … “I’m probably not supposed to say this,” linebacker Brandon Siler said earlier this week, “but we’ve got bigger goals. We’re still out there playing for something. You have to know that” … Joe Cohen, who started earlier, will replace Thomas in the starting lineup.

NO. 7 USC TROJANS. There probably isn’t a better cure in the Pac-10 for recovering from a loss than to play the conference doormat Stanford Cardinal. USC took its dose of medicine with a 42-nothing seriousness that places the Trojans square on the path to recovery…It ain’t gonna get any easier from this week forward…four really tough games are in line to close out the season…No. 21 Oregon, No. 8 Cal, No. 9 Notre Dame, and the cross-town rivalry game with UCLA…if USC can dispatch all four of these teams, it would be a very difficult argument to keep the Trojans out of the National Championship Game on Jan. 8. The Trojans will need as many of those injured players from earlier in the season as possible to come back and help fill in the depth chart to make it through this last month of regular-season games.

NO. 8 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Cal had a tough time with UCLA last week in its 38-24 home game win, which just goes to prove that UCLA could really play a spoiler role in the Pac-10 before the season is over…for instance, let’s say USC beats Cal on Nov. 18…UCLA could still come back and beat the Trojans, handing the keys to the Rose Bowl Game back to Cal…stay tuned, because a lot could happen between now and Dec 2. Nate Longshore was 20 of 24 for 266 yards and four TDs to lead the Bears…Marshawn Lynch was held to 81 yards on 20 carries…UCLA logged 529 total yards…the Bruins are clearly no pushover, even with a second-string QB who is looking more and more like a first-stringer. Cal ‘s DeSean Jackson returned a punt 72 yards for a TD…that’s three this season, which ties the Pac-10 season record…he has four punt return TDs for Cal in his career, making him the all-time career leader in that category at the school…Cal will face Arizona in the desert this weekend…once again, another Jekyll and Hyde type of team…will Cal see the Wildcats team that beat a very good BYU Cougars team early in the season and just beat Wazzu on the road last weekend, or will the Bears see an Arizona team that lost to Washington and UCLA on successive weekends last month?

NO. 9 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. The Irish pounded on a helpless North Carolina Tar Heels team last week, 45-26. What is difficult to figure out is how they could yield 26 points and nearly 300 total yards to a 1-8 team? This type of win isn’t one that inspires pollsters to move you up in the ranks…not when your defense is looking like Swiss cheese against one of the weakest programs in the nation right now. On the other hand, the Irish offense continues to click right along…Brady Quinn took advantage of the Tar Heels’ porous defense for 346 yards and four TD passes…WR Jeff Samardzija had a monster day with six hauls for 177 yards and a score. His TD grab was the 23rd of his career, breaking the old Notre Dame record held by Derrick Mayes. The Irish continue their conquest against the service academies when they play at Air Force this weekend (followed by Army and then the season closer at USC). Air Force hasn’t beaten Notre Dame in years, but there was a time when the Falcons knocked off the Irish three years in a row back in the 1980s…they also picked up another win in the series during the 1990s…that’s a lot more than Navy or Army can collectively puff their chests about over the past 40 years. What it means is that the Falcons know if they play a near-perfect game, they could engineer an upset. Both Navy and Army lack that level of faith when it comes to taking on the Irish.

NO. 10 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. The warning flags were raised back in September, lost in the euphoria of a 45-24 rout of Maryland … thanks to a dominating performance by Steve Slaton in the first half and several Terp turnovers, the game was never really in doubt … still, Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach peppered the Mountaineers’ young secondary for 247 yards, hitting 11 straight passes at one point … then, a week later, WVU gave up some long balls to East Carolina’s James Pinkney (including a 47-yarder to Aundrae Allison on which the WVU coverage seemed to evaporate) … these glitches may have been forgotten, though, because the next three opponents (Mississippi State, Connecticut and Syracuse) did not have strong passing games … and then, last Thursday, along came Brian Brohm …exploiting a WVU secondary that included a freshman starter, the Louisville QB threw for 354 yards and a touchdown, hitting Harry Douglas and 6-foot-6 Mario Uruttia repeatedly, mostly in the middle of the field … Douglas averaged 19.3 yards on his six receptions, while Urrutia also grabbed a half-dozen balls and averaged 18.8 … despite this barrage, however, the game would have been as close as last year’s overtime affair but for a two-minute stretch early in the second half in which Louisville scored on a fumble recovery and a punt return to make the score 30-14 … otherwise, the teams merely traded touchdowns … their national championship hopes dashed, the Mountaineers must now regroup to complete a Big East schedule including Cincinnati, Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers.

NO. 11 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. Most quarterback controversies have been settled by now, either through comparative performance or injury … but Arkansas coach Houston Nutt admits to having a “quick trigger,” and he used it on Mitch Mustain in the South Carolina game last Saturday, yanking the homegrown freshman after he threw an interception on his first possession and inserting the almost-forgotten Casey Dick … Dick promptly threw for 228 yards and has been re-installed as the starter against visiting Tennessee this weekend … “Casey made great decisions with the ball, and that’s what experience does under pressure in a difficult situation,” said Nutt, who was the first Razorback true freshman to start at quarterback (in 1976) … it doesn’t hurt to have Darren McFadden on your team, either … McFadden has been outperforming higher profile backs like Kenny Irons, Mike Hart and Antonio Pittman this year, and burned the Gamecocks for 219 rushing yards on 25 carries … as for Mustain, Nutt said: “He took it (his demotion) the way I expected him to take it” … in other words, he wasn’t happy … undefeated in league play, the Razorbacks can still determine their own destiny in the SEC West Division … after facing the Volunteers, Nutt’s team travels to Mississippi State and then finishes the season at home against LSU.

NO. 12 LSU TIGERS. His team is among the national leaders in five defensive categories and leads the SEC in scoring, so you’d think LSU coach Les Miles would be in a good mood … during the Tigers’ come-from-behind 28-24 victory over Tennessee last week, however, Miles went ballistic over a referee’s call, barked at a female CBS reporter at halftime, and generally acted like a man with a chip on his shoulder … maybe he was pondering the fact that his 7-2 squad could just as easily be 9-0 and on top in the SEC West … only a 7-3 loss to Auburn and a 23-10 setback to Florida that was largely self-inflicted stand between the current Tiger reality and a lost BCS Nirvana … this week, LSU hosts struggling Alabama, and Miles talked about the Crimson Tide as if Bear Bryant was still coaching them and Joe Namath was still at quarterback … the Tigers could still wind up in a nice bowl, but their hopes for an SEC West title are almost nonexistent … the only possible scenario would be for both Auburn and Arkansas to collapse, losing both of their final SEC games while LSU wins out … since Auburn beat LSU, the Tigers would have to have three losses for the Bayou Bengals to be able to ease past them.

NO. 13 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. Finally, the Volunteers know how backup quarterback Jonathan Crompton would perform in a big game — not badly at all … sadly for UT’s slim national title hopes, Crompton’s emergence came in a 28-24 loss to LSU, but that wasn’t the redshirt freshman’s fault … after Erik Ainge proved unable to function on his sprained right ankle, the 6-4, 225-pounder came on to complete 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Robert Meacham … “He certainly showed a lot of toughness and aggressiveness and effort,” said Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer. “Typical of a young guy who’s getting a lot of different coverages thrown at him, there were times when he could have done better. But the two deep balls he threw were outstanding, and he had nothing to be ashamed of” … Crompton may be forced to start against Arkansas again on Saturday, if Ainge’s ankle doesn’t respond to treatment this week … the Vols do hope to have LaMarcus Coker back at running back after an absence of several weeks, but Arian Foster has been suspended for the first half after getting involved in a 3 a.m. bar fight …. after the trip to Fayetteville, UT finishes with Vanderbilt and Kentucky, having already bettered last year 5-6 record.

NO. 14 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. BSU padded its stats a bit more last weekend while walking all over an incredibly pathetic 1-7 Fresno State Bulldogs team. Jared Zabransky tossed three TDs, equaling his season high, and Ian Johnson picked up 136 on 24 carries, good for two TDs…Fresno State is in the midst of its worst season since 1929…the fact that the WAC schedule is so weak is hurting the Broncos…they remained stuck at No. 14 in the AP poll and the BCS poll…WAC commish Karl Benson is now whining about how if Boise State had beaten Boston College in its bowl game last year, the Broncos would have been ranked at the beginning of this season, and therefore, would be ranked much higher right now. Benson claimed that loss against Boston College came down to one play near the end, but sports fans in the know will remember that BC was whipping the Broncos 24-0 at halftime on the Boise State home field. BC began emptying its bench and had to call upon its starters again when BSU rallied…this week, BSU faces the San Jose State Spartans on the road…look for another blowout victory by the Broncs.

NO. 15 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. Who, in their wildest dreams, would have predicted two years ago that the attention of the college football world would be focused on a Thursday night game in Piscataway, N.J.? But there we are, with 8-0 Rutgers hosting 8-0 Louisville with the Big East lead at stake … the Cardinals are basking in the heat lamp of a 45-24 victory over West Virginia and a No. 3 AP rating, which might indicate that they’re ripe to be upset … after all, Rutgers is an up-the-gut running team, and the Louisville defense wasn’t exactly the Great Wall against WVU swifties Steve Slaton and Pat White … the problem is, White can also throw, and Scarlet Knights QB Mike Teel has been erratic, at best, this season (six TD passes, eight interceptions) … everyone knows about Scarlet Knights lead back Ray Rice, who already has 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns … the wild card might be FB Brian Leonard, who was mentioned as a Heisman candidate in the preseason but has been mysteriously absent from the offense other than his always-thunderous blocking … conventional wisdom says that Rutgers had better maintain its focus at the beginning of the game, despite all the hype, because the Knights aren’t the kind of team that can come from behind … the hope among Rutgers fans is that their darlings have been playing at the level of their competition — which, by and large, hasn’t been good so far — and will ratchet it up on Thursday night … the fascinating question is, if Rutgers were to win, where would it be ranked next week?

NO. 16 WISCONSIN BADGERS. Defense is the name of the game for the 9-1 Badgers…they slugged it out with JoePa’s Nittany Lions last weekend and prevailed, 13-3. They are ranked sixth in the country in points allowed (11.9 per game). That’s the one team defensive stat that you can hang your hat on when it comes to discussing stopping your opponents…after all, look who’s leading the nation–Ohio State, with a 7.6 per-game average…two more regular-season games to go in what really could be a Cinderella season where Cinderella doesn’t get invited to the ball…make that bowl, as in Bowl Championship Series. As we reported last week, even if the Badgers finish 11-1 and qualify in every which way for a BCS bowl, they won’t be considered because Ohio State and Michigan are pretty sure locks for the BCS…there’s a rule that says only two teams from a conference can play in the BCS bowls each year…well, there’s still a big hurdle for Wisconsin this week with a road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes…Wisconsin should win, if it takes care of business on the defensive side and open some holes for P.J. Hill, Jr. on the offense…starting QB John Stocco will likely miss the game and that could set the offense back and make this a really interesting game…make it through Iowa City with a win and these Badgers will be rewarded with a season ender at home against Buffalo.

NO. 17 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. The Sooners’ game with Texas Tech on Saturday should be quite a change from last week’s meeting with Texas A&M … Aggie QB Stephen McGee threw for 63 yards against OU, while Tech’s Graham Harrell is capable of throwing for 600 … it was a gutsy call by Bob Stoops that helped preserve a 17-16 victory over A&M … the Sooners tried a quarterback sneak facing fourth and inches at their own 29 with 1:29 left, and QB Paul Thompson squirmed over the imaginary yellow TV line on second effort … Sooner TB Allen Patrick, settling into a first-string groove in the wake of the injury to Adrian Peterson, continues to get better, gouging A&M for 173 yards on 32 carries.

NO. 18. WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. Jim Grobe’s Deacons are crawling up the ACC standings by their fingernails, one improbable level at a time, serenaded by a chorus of doubters … last week, the Deacons beat Boston College 21-14 despite surrendering 400-plus passing yards to the Eagles’ Matt Ryan … it was, incredibly, Wake’s first November victory since 2003 … meanwhile, the team’s leading rusher has less than 400 yards and QB Joel Skinner is a freshman … of course, Wake will come down to earth over the last three weeks with games against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Maryland … then again, people have been saying that all year, and Wake is 8-1, its record marred only by a 10-point loss to Clemson.

NO. 19 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. The Yellow Jackets played the old shell game on North Carolina State last week, shuffling the football around between QB Reggie Ball (215 passing yards, four touchdown passes), RB Tashard Choice (164 rushing yards) and WR Calvin Johnson (168 yards in receptions) … Johnson’s output was a career high … the final score was 31-23, and that may be the last time Tech will be challenged in league play … the last two ACC teams on its schedule are North Carolina and Duke, followed by suddenly listless Georgia.

NO. 20 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES. The assumption for a lot of Atlantic Coast Conference observers, even as late as four days after Halloween, was that the Miami Hurricanes were still going to come clawing out of their shallow grave at some point … it would be like that standard scene in horror flicks where you think the creature is dead, only to have it suddenly reach out and grab the hero by the ankle … well, forget about it … on Saturday night, Virginia Tech arrived with a wooden stake (Branden Ore) and a silver bullet (an opportunistic defense), and the Hokies’ 17-10 victory — in the ‘Canes’ Orange Bowl house of horrors, no less — confirmed the obvious: Miami has no offense and no hope to rescue its season … true, the Hokies were held to 138 yards by a Miami defense that was as inspired as the offense was uninspired, but nevertheless found a way to set up two Branden Ore touchdown runs … the bad news, for Tech, is that it continues to trail Georgia Tech by a game in the Coastal Division, lost to the Yellow Jackets earlier in the year, and still has to play Wake Forest (a team that really should be dead, but isn’t) while Georgia Tech coasts through UNC and Duke.

NO. 21 OREGON DUCKS. The Ducks quashed rival Washington 34-14 at home last weekend, as Jonathan Stewart rushed for 159 yards and two TDs on 25 carries…the QB tandem of Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf went 18 of 30 for 138 yards and two picks…we know this game wasn’t a good measuring stick to judge Oregon by…The Huskies were without the services of former starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback, who is out for the year with a broken ankle…y’all saw what Stanback meant to the Huskies earlier this season against USC…hmmm…USC, that sounds familiar…yep, Oregon will be traveling to Los Angeles to face the Trojans this week…we’ll find out if the big O are Ducks for real or just some Quacks trying to hang on in the middle of the Pac-10 with two conference losses…once USC is in the rearview mirrors, Oregon has Arizona at home and archrival Oregon State on the road to close out the season. Keep your eyes on the USC game this week…the Ducks are perfectly capable of winning in the City of Angels.

NO. 22 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. The Eagles went on the road to Tobacco Country last weekend and failed to take care of business, falling to the Wake Forest, 21-14. That’s the second time they dropped a huge conference game this season in the good state of North Carolina…Matt Ryan went 40 of 57 for 402 yards and a score…the two picks he gave up proved costly…even worse, though, was the absence of any rushing attack by BC…the Eagles gained 66 net yards on the ground against the Deacons…still, the Eagles outpaced Wake Forest in total yards, 468-296. Looking ahead, what can BC possibly hope for, now that it has pretty much dashed its hopes of winning the Atlantic Division of the ACC? It’s a long shot, but the Eagles need Wake Forest to lose two of their final three games against Florida State, Maryland and Miami, and then BC needs to beat both Maryland and Miami…in that scenario, the Eagles would win their division based on head-to-head with Maryland…but for now, they just need to take care of Duke at home this weekend.

NO. 23 MARYLAND TERRAPINS. The Terps have a tall order ahead of them, but if they can take care of business in at least two of their final three games, they will lock up the Atlantic Division crown…they need to beat both Wake Forest and Boston College, which would permit them to lose to Miami…the only problem is, the Miami game is this weekend…the good news is that the Hurricanes have to blow into College Park, Md.for the game…and not that it really matters, because Kyle Wright is having such a horrendous year, but it looks like he will probably sit this weekend with an injured hand. Throwing a second-stringer into the fray against a very hungry Terps team isn’t exactly how Larry Coker might want to attack Maryland’s defense. The fact the Terps are even in contention for the division crown is because they have taken care of business the past three weeks against North Carolina State and Florida State at home, and they won the improbable road game against the division favorites, Clemson. Credit Maryland’s defense for holding the explosive Tiger rushing attack to only 156 yards.

NO. 24 TEXAS A&M AGGIES. The Aggies lost by a whisker to Oklahoma, 17-16, which is why they didn’t tumble out of the Top 25 completely…the halftime score was 14-10 in favor of the Sooners. Total yardage was pretty even…A&M had 315 yards to Oklahoma’s 283, while the Sooners had 16 first downs to the Aggies’ 15…Texas A&M had one turnover to the Okies’ one…that’s how close it was throughout the game…with Nebraska up this week and Texas on Nov. 24, it’s pretty likely the best A&M will finish the regular season is at 9-3. We’re projecting a win over Nebraska at home and a loss on the road to Texas…Not a bad season, but it could be worse, like in 8-4…even then, that should get the Aggies into the Cotton Bowl or a comparable postseason venue…

NO. 25 BYU COUGARS. It’s been over four years since Brigham Young was in the AP Top 25…back in 2002, the Cougars started the season out with wins over Syracuse and Hawaii before stumbling and tumbling into a freefall under former head coach Gary Crowton…BYU had pretty much been Top 25 mainstays throughout most of LaVell Edwards’ legendary 27-year head coaching career…that downward spiral was corrected last year when Bronco Mendenhall, BYU’s defensive coordinator under Crowton, was named head coach. He led the Cougars to their first non-losing season in three years as well as their first bowl game in four years…flash forward to this year…BYU is literally two plays away from being undefeated this season…A touchdown pass called back against Arizona and a missed field goal at Boston College…The defense is yielding 14.2 points per game, good for 11th in the nation…the offense is led by senior signal caller John Beck, a top five-rated passer this year…the running game has solid depth with senior Curtis Brown and sophomores Fui Vakapuna and Manase Tonga…there’s strength on both sides of the line of scrimmage and receivers are vacuuming up nearly every pass…last week, a flu-ridden Cougar team invaded Fort Collins, Colo. and left with a solid 24-3 victory over the Colorado State Rams…this week, BYU takes on Wyoming and its fourth-ranked defense in a Thursday night televised matchup…Wyoming can be stingy, so this should be a whale of a game…the Cowboys held the explosive Boise state offense to 246 total yards and 17 points in a close loss earlier this season…a win by the Cougars will clinch them a share of the Mountain West title.

Fourth and inches …

► One week and counting to the Ohio State-Michigan clash… it’s difficult to believe this will be the first time both teams have been undefeated and holding down the top two rankings heading into their rivalry game. Geez, I could swear when I was a kid the Buckeyes and Wolverines were always undefeated … that’s what it seemed like … Let’s not forget they both have to take care of business this weekend first … Michigan travels to Bloomington to take on Indiana … Ohio State visits Northwestern … both underdogs are capable of pulling off the upset, but it just doesn’t seem like it will happen this year … last week’s unusually close brushes with disaster served as a good wake-up call for both squads.

► Tickets for the Ohio State-Michigan game are 10 times more valuable than tonight’s Louisville-Rutgers game … as reported here last week, single seat tix are going for as much as $2,000 for the Nov. 18 game in Columbus … $200 for a single ticket is the top price the Big East’s Numero Uno and Numero Dos are fetching.

►Don’t think for one minute tonight’s game will settle the Big East … The Cardinals still have South Florida and Connecticut at home and they play at Pitt … Rutgers still has Cincinnati, Syracuse and West Virginia on its calendar … WVU still has Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers …

►The Ohio State-Michigan game will settle the Big Ten championship next week … There is really only one other conference that might be in line to crown its champion that early this season … that would be the Mountain West Conference … the BYU Cougars can clinch a share of the title tonight when they host conference-rival Wyoming and win it outright with another win over the New Mexico Lobos next week … as detailed above, the Big East Conference won’t be figured out for a few more weeks … the WAC appears to be wrapped up by Boise State (although if you want to drink the Kool-Aid I’m pouring in my Upset Specials this week, San Jose State will pull off the improbable on Saturday) … There is one scenario that would allow the California Golden Bears to claim the Pac-10 title this weekend, and it’s so difficult to imagine, I couldn’t bring myself to include it in the Upset Specials … If Oregon were to defeat USC this weekend and Cal beats Arizona, Cal would have the conference title in its back pocket with a two-game lead over the Trojans. The Bears could afford to lose to USC next week and they would still have the title sewn up (because beating Stanford in Berkeley this year is a foregone conclusion). All the other conferences will have to wait until their title games on Dec. 2 to anoint this year’s champions.

►The shocking murder of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata will undoubtedly cause many football fans out there to shrug their shoulders and chalk up the tragedy to some sort of comeuppance for the Hurricanes’ program … the perception of Miami being “Thug U.” might be well-deserved on some accounts, but Pata was a young man who represented the good among NCAA student-athletes across the country … the 22-year-old senior was actively involved with steering youth in the Miami community away from drugs and violence … he had hopes of playing in the NFL. We hope his family and friends will find solace in the knowledge that he was not only a well-disciplined and dedicated teammate, but also a powerful force for good in the Miami community … the Hurricanes will play the rest of the season with number “95” decals on their helmets in memory of their fallen teammate.

►Downward trends … Pitt’s Tyler Palko was leading the NCAA in QB passer rating until last week when the Panthers lost to Central Florida, 22-12. Palko’s passing stats for the game? 12 for 25 (48 percent) for 189 yards, one TD and three picks … last season’s passer ratings leader, ASU’s Rudy Carpenter, is ranked sixth in the Pac-10 among QBs with more than 50 passing attempts. Carpenter isn’t even ranked in the NCAA’s Top 25 … when you take a look at the type of numbers he was throwing up last week in Corvallis, Ore. against the Beavers, you can see why: 9 for 27, 124 yards, two interceptions … last year, Carpenter tossed a total of two interceptions in nine games …

►National awards organizations are beginning to zero in on their finalists … the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award which honors the top senior quarterback in the country has zeroed in on its final five: Brady Quinn (Notre Dame) John Beck (BYU) Kevin Kolb (Houston) Troy Smith (Ohio State) and Drew Stanton (Michigan State). The Davey O’Brien Awards committee revised its starting list to 18 semi-finalists and will name its finalists on Nov. 21. RealFootball365.com will have a rundown and player capsules for all the major award finalists later this month … stay tuned …

►DI-A head coaching vacancies … get those resumes out and polished up … North Carolina, Iowa State and Michigan State are all looking for a new head coach … other vacancies rumored to be on the horizon include Arizona State University, University of Miami and North Carolina State.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: The Air Force Academy Falcons have defeated Notre Dame five times in the past 25 years, including four years in a row during one stretch. List the dates, the game locations and the scores. Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game T-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Once again, we had you baffled and confused as nobody came up with the correct answer to this question: “In what year was the rule introduced that prohibited players who wore numbers 50 – 79 from catching a forward pass?”

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State (holding on precariously after last week…) 2. Pat White, West Virginia (proved he’s the main catalyst in the Mountaineers’ offense last week when Slaton sat…) 3. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin (has carried the Badger offense on his back this season…) 4. John Beck, BYU (quietly restoring the Quarterback U tradition at BYU…) 5. Brian Brohm, Louisville (rapidly rising on this list with each big win…)

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Boston College Eagles (plus-28) over Duke Blue Devils … Nevada Wolfpack (plus-29.5) over Utah State Aggies … Hawaii Warriors (plus-38) over Louisiana Tech Bulldogs … and yes, even JoePa’s Nittany Lions will get some stats padding in this year as they are (plus-36) on the Temple Owls.

►Best Games of the Week: Louisville Cardinals @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights … Wyoming Cowboys @ BYU Cougars … Miami Hurricanes @ Maryland Terrapins … Wisconsin Badgers @ Iowa Hawkeyes … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Florida State Seminoles … Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Texas A&M Aggies … Tennessee Volunteers @ Arkansas Razorbacks … South Carolina Gamecocks @ Florida Gators … Texas Christian Horned Frogs @ New Mexico Lobos … Texas Tech Red Raiders @ Oklahoma Sooners … Oregon Ducks @ USC Trojans … Oregon State Beavers @ UCLA Bruins …

►Upset Specials of the Week… After enjoying some upset success during October, the rug was pulled out from under my crystal ball last week … Texas A&M came really close to knocking off Oklahoma, falling a point short …we won’t even revisit the other game, thanks to Dirk Koetter’s Sun Devils’ utter failure to show up in Corvallis last week … Let’s have some fun this week and call for two top 15 teams to get knocked off … the crystal ball says that the Air Force Falcons manage to control the ball and the clock at home to win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish … Dick Tomey is quietly turning around a once-proud San Jose State program … restoring pride and dedication in his players … they will take a gigantic leap ahead this week when they upset the Boise State Broncos..

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. Mission accomplished. The Buckeyes took care of business on the road at Northwestern last week, 54-10. They now get to host the most celebrated rivalry game in college football for all the chips you can collect in the regular season–the right to play for the national title on Jan. 8. Troy Smith was 12 of 19 for 185 yards, 4 TDs and one pick in three quarters … he also picked up 15 yards on five carries, most of it coming on a nifty 11-yard scamper. Look for him to let loose and take off more against Michigan than he has all year … that’s what the Wolverines fear the most, considering the damage he’s inflicted the past two rivalry contests with his jets. Speaking of the running game, Antonio Pittman picked up 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and freshman Chris Wells lugged the pigskin just 11 times for 99 yards and a score. Michigan’s vaunted defense will have plenty of threats to keep track of with the aforementioned trio and receivers Ted Ginn, Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. You can’t really say that Ohio State’s defense shut down the Wildcats’ dangerous running back, Tyrell Sutton, but they did contain him on the ground. Sutton managed 57 yards on 12 carries, a solid 4.8 yards per carry average. He also hauled in seven passes for 75 yards and a TD.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. Mission accomplished. The Wolverines took care of business on the road at Indiana last week, 34-3. If you noticed the similarity of our opening statement for each team, it’s intentional. These teams couldn’t be more alike in many respects or more closely matched. They both struggled just a wee bit two weeks out from the rivalry game, getting those itchy trigger fingers for each other … and then, they both went on the road last week and turned in lock-down performances on teams that have to be approached with respect (just ask Iowa about the Hoosiers and the Wildcats…). Both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have cool, accurate quarterbacks, dangerous receivers and solid rushing attacks. Both teams have rock-solid, stodgy defenses. Michigan blew a sure fourth-quarter lead last year in Ann Arbor and the players haven’t forgotten–it was their main source of motivation throughout the offseason workouts … something has to give this weekend. Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes both used to preach to their teams that the first order of business was to lock down the Big Ten title. If you did that, everything would take care of itself. Well, times haven’t changed much regarding that philosophy, have they? If Michigan prevails, Lloyd Carr deserves the Coach of the Year award.

NO. 3 FLORIDA GATORS: Call it Jarvis Moss’ Joakim Noah imitation … the 6-foot-6 University of Florida defensive end leaped high to reject a 48-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Succop of South Carolina as time expired Saturday, helping to lift his team to its highest ranking all season by preserving a 17-16 victory … Moss also blocked an extra point, while linemate Ray McDonald batted down another field goal attempt … it was a typical 2006 Florida victory, blending stout defense with just enough offense to get the job done … Chris Leak hasn’t had a particularly scintillating senior year (he dropped off the Heisman radar weeks ago) but he helped thwart the upset hopes of Gamecock (and former Gator) coach Steve Spurrier by hitting 19 of 27 passes for 254 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to Dallas Baker … DeShawn Wynn chimed in with 90 rushing yards, and backup quarterback Tim Tebow ran for a score … leapfrogging Texas and Auburn in the AP standings when both lost, Urban Meyer’s team is finished with its SEC regular season, winding up with Western Carolina and Florida State … the bad news is, Florida still trails Southern Cal in the BCS.

NO. 4 USC TROJANS. Southern Cal solved its turnover problem from the OSU debacle, and the Trojans’ plus-3 on the Ducks proved deadly. It didn’t hurt that they also shut down Jonathan Stewart on the ground (42 yards, 14 touches) … the only time Stewart found paydirt was in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard pass reception when the Ducks were already down 28-3. Oregon looked sluggish and was outclassed by the Trojans and if that is any sort of indicator for the last three games of the year, the true Rose Bowl Game that should be played in Pasadena will be taking place in the Arizona desert. USC lost running back Emmanuel Moody for the season with an ankle injury, but it came at a time when Chauncey Washington finally asserted himself into the feature tailback role with 119 yards on just 15 lugs and 3 TDs. This week’s matchup with Cal has a strange vibe to it, since everyone and their dog expected the Bears to walk all over Arizona and come into the Coliseum with a valid shot at playing for the national title. Instead, turnovers marred Cal’s loss in Tucson and the Bears come limping in while USC is riding high again. There’s a lot at stake in this game for both teams. The loser will end up in the Holiday Bowl, but if Cal wins, it’ll be in the Rose Bowl Game for the first time in 49 years. If USC wins, they’ll be two games away from a shot at the national title with the Rose Bowl Game invite in their back pocket.

NO. 5 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. No. 5 also happens to be the one Darren McFadden wears on his jersey … coincidence? We don’t think so … the Arkansas sophomore rushed for 180 yards in a 31-14 rout of Tennessee, threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Monk and even caught a pass himself … next, Razorback offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be dusting off the single wing … “It’s hard to simulate the speed of No. 5,” said Volunteers coach Philip Fulmer. “He’s the best back we’ve faced all year” … meanwhile, the Hog defense was making life difficult for redshirt freshman UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton, starting because of an injury .. if there’s one thing this season has proved, it’s how difficult it is for a rookie quarterback to star in the SEC (think Mitch Mustain, Matthew Stafford, and now Crompton) … Arkansas now has only to beat Mississippi State to clinch the SEC West title.

NO. 6 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. Notre Dame fans couldn’t stop complaining all last week about the shaft they were getting with their beloved Golden Domers not being televised on a real television network. CSTV, which actually operates the official Irish sports Web site, was telecasting the game on its fledgling set-up and you really needed to have a satellite dish if you wanted to see this game at home. The Irish are thankful the game wasn’t seen by most of the country because despite the final score of 39-17, the Air Force Academy Falcons exposed several weaknesses in the Lucky Charm defense … Air Force gained 220 yards on the ground and controlled the clock for 39 minutes … Falcons QB Shaun Carney had his best passing game of the year, going 14-17 for 205 yards and 2 TDs … This game would have been much closer had Air Force converted its field goal attempt in the second quarter. Instead, the kick was blocked and returned for a touchdown resulting in a 10-point turnaround. Brady Quinn has to be given props for his efficiency … it was almost identical to Carney’s numbers: 14-19, 207 yards, 4 TDs. Darius Walker was the Irish workhorse–he had 153 yards on the ground in 15 carries–all within the 21 minutes Notre Dame had the ball. Still, Air Force players weighed in on Notre Dame after the game, proclaiming that No. 23 BYU and its hotshot QB, John Beck, are just as good, if not better than Brady Quinn and Co. The Irish tune up for the big USC showdown next week with Army visiting South Bend this Saturday. You can bet it will be on national TV… who would want to miss it?

NO. 7 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. Everybody’s got a hungry heart in Piscataway these days, as New Jersey state oracle Bruce Springsteen once declared … who wouldn’t, after several decades of losing football games?… yet even though Ray Rice was born to run, it was the Scarlet Knights’ defense that really turned the Rutgers’ stadium into Jungleland for visiting Louisville and ushered in glory days for Greg Schiano’s team … OK, you get the idea … led by DL Ramel Meekins and LB Devraun Thompson, the Scarlet Knights put intense pressure on Cardinal QB Brian Brohm, an accurate thrower but not especially nimble when flushed out of the pocket … Brohm was sacked five times, Rutgers held Louisville to three-and-out five times in the second half, and the home team scored the last 21 points of the game to send everyone in the Garden State, from Gov. Jon Corzine on down, into ecstasy … that may last a couple of weeks, with games at inconsistent Cincinnati and home against doleful Syracuse, but then the Scarlet Knights will have to carry the weight of their state’s hopes to West Virginia on the last Saturday of the season … and as everyone knows, Morgantown can be Thunder Road on gamedays.

NO. 8 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. So much for that letdown theory … a week after seeing their national championship hopes blown away by a fired-up Louisville team, Rich Rodriguez’s Mountaineers got a shot of energy when the Cardinals promptly lost to Rutgers … now, WVU is at least still alive for a Big East title and a BCS bowl berth, and they celebrated by pounding Cincinnati, 42-24, last Saturday … Rodriguez told his team before the game to “have some fun, for crying out loud” … as opposed to simply crying out loud, which they were doing a few days earlier … QB Pat White was his usual streak-of-lightning self, and Steve Slaton, whose two fumbles against Louisville were blamed on wrist injuries, showed there was nothing wrong with his legs, reeling off two runs of over 60 yards and finishing with 148 yards on 13 carries … Rodriguez shook up his secondary, which was riddled by Louisville’s Brian Brohm, even inserting squad member Guesly Dervil, who had never played a college game, into the lineup … this Thursday night, it’s the Backyard Brawl with Pitt, and two weeks after that, Rutgers.

NO. 9 LSU TIGERS. There are times when JaMarcus Russell looks like someone playing against his little brother’s friends, and Saturday night’s 28-14 victory over Alabama was one of those times … Russell stood calmly in the pocket most of the night, spreading the ball around as Crimson Tide tacklers bounced off him … and when he ran, the 6-6, 260-pounder was deceptively quick, twice scrambling for key first downs … “People think I’m big and slow,” Russell said afterward, “but I’m not” … Alabama hung in the game most of the way, but the Tigers held the Tide at bay down the stretch … Les Miles’ team now finishes with Ole Miss and Arkansas, not an easy row to hoe.

NO. 10 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. It’s time to restate the obvious — without Michael Bush, Louisville isn’t the same team everyone got so excited about before the season … granted, the defense is feisty and QB Brian Brohm is capable of stretches of brilliance, yet a committee of running backs has failed to equal even one Bush, an Earl Campbell-like combination of power and speed who was gearing up for a rush at the Heisman before breaking his leg in the opener with Kentucky … in the stunning 28-25 loss to Rutgers last Thursday, the Scarlet Knight D-linemen went after Brohm with abandon, apparently unafraid of being burned by the run … look for Bobby Petrino to make adjustments, perhaps by trying more screens and short routes instead of the more time-consuming home run shots launched at Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas.

NO. 11 TEXAS LONGHORNS. The eyes — and the MRIs — of Texas have been on freshman QB Colt McCoy this week … McCoy insists that the shoulder injury that knocked him out of last Saturday’s loss to Kansas State early was nothing more than a painful “stinger,” and closer examination seemed to bear him out … moreover, McCoy now has a bye week in which to get healthy … this is important, because while the 45-42 loss effectively eliminated Texas from national championship contention, all the Longhorns need to do is beat Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving to clinch the Big 12’s Southern Division title … the problem is, Oklahoma also has just one loss, although Texas wins a tie on the basis of beating the Sooners earlier … more bad news from the K-State loss was the regression of the Longhorn pass defense (which made freshman Wildcat QB Josh Freeman look like, well, Colt McCoy) and an injury to All-American T Justin Blalock.

NO. 12 WISCONSIN BADGERS. Wisconsin ended its 4-game losing streak to Iowa, winning a hard fought 24-21 over the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium, and with a near-certain win against Buffalo this week, the Badgers will have won 11 regular-season games for the first time in school history. Yes, they’ll finish 11-1, with a close loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor being their only blemish. Junior backup QB Tyler Donovan stepped into injured John Stocco’s shoes and calmly proceeded to pass for 228 yards and two touchdowns with nearly 71 percent accuracy (17 for 24). Freshman battering ram P.J. Hill, Jr. banged out 77 tenacious yards and one TD on 28 carries to keep the Hawkeye defense honest. Wisconsin’s defense is just about as stout as they come in the Big Ten this year … the unit held Iowa’s Drew Tate to 170 yards passing … Tate completed just over 32 percent of his passes (10-32) and Iowa’s rushing attack yielded just 135 net yards on the day. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema became the first coach in Big Ten history to win 10 games in his rookie year. And so, after this week’s regular-season-ending home game victory over Buffalo, the soon-to-be 11-1 Badgers will end up heading to a bowl game in Florida …

NO. 13 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. Talk about dodging a bullet. The San Jose State Spartans had Boise State down 20-12 with about six minutes to go in the game and then, like most young teams trying to learn how to win, they choked and sputtered and ended up handing the game over to the Broncs … a last-second field goal gave BSU a 23-20 victory … it was not a pretty display of BCS-like power over a Spartans squad that has six wins this year over foes sporting a cumulative 7-37 record. In the battle of QBs, SJSU’s Adam Tafralis was a clear winner over Jared Zabransky … Tafralis was a precise 17-23, for 173 yards and 3 TDs to Z’s 14-20, 181 yards, one pick. As he has done all year, Ian Johnson carried the team on his back with 29 carries good for 149 yards and a score. He also ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung, which will keep him out of the Utah State game this weekend. No big deal … Boise can play all second-teamers against powder puff Utah State and walk away with a win. The Broncos were basically handed a golden invitation to a BCS bowl because of the rash of upsets above them in the rankings. As of right now, the Broncos are an automatic.

NO. 14 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. Prior to this season, the idea that Wake Forest would be playing Florida State in November in a game with BCS and league championship implications would have been considered preposterous and the prospects of Wake’s winning such a game impossible … as it turned out, though, the reality was even more unlikely — not only did Wake beat the Seminoles in that key game, but it pitched the first shutout ever against a Bobby Bowden team in Tallahassee, 30-0 … again, the stars for the Deacons were placekicker Sam Swank and a fast, aggressive defense that intercepted each of the Seminoles’ young quarterbacks — Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee — twice … next up for Jim Grobe’s overachievers is Virginia Tech, another team that seems to be closing with a rush.

NO. 15 AUBURN TIGERS. You might say this game was Uggaly for the dismayed Tigers, who were ranked as high as No. 3 earlier and had handed Florida its only loss … Georgia DB Tra Battle inserted himself into Brandon Cox’s future nightmares by making three of the four picks against the Auburn junior, running one of them back for a touchdown … playing loose on the road with nothing to lose, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 24-0 lead, forcing Auburn to play catch-up and put the ball in the air more often than it would have liked … nor did it help that versatile back Kenny Irons was still hampered by an ankle injury … with two league losses, the Tigers are now out of the running for the SEC West title … even if Arkansas were to lose its last two games, the Hogs would get the nod because of head-to-head competition.

NO. 16 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. Rhett who? Prior to this season, there was much hand-wringing in Norman when sophomore quarterback Rhett Bomar became a non-Sooner after it was revealed he had spent part of the summer not working at (but getting paid by) a non-job … Paul Thompson was returned from wide receiver exile to replace Bomar, which was pretty much like a girl calling a guy she had previously rejected after her first choice for prom date got sick … just give the ball to Adrian Peterson 40 times a game, Sooner fans said … so what happened? Peterson wound up lost for the season with a broken collarbone, Thompson put up probably better numbers (1.914 yards passing, 15 touchdowns against six interceptions, a 61 precent completion percentage) than Bomar would have, and the Sooners are still alive for the Big 12 title … true, that would require victories over Baylor and Oklahoma State and a Texas loss to Texas A&M, but stranger things have happened … amazingly, third-string tailback Chris Brown stepped in against Texas Tech last Saturday and contributed two touchdowns to the 34-24 victory … Thompson completed 21 of 31 passes for 309 yards, 11 of those completions going to Malcolm Kelly (153 yards and a touchdown) … the tough Sooner defense shut down Texas Tech’s aerial circus after intermission, holding Mike Leach’s team scoreless.

NO. 17 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Even after their numbing defeat the first game of the year to Tennessee, the Bears were in line to play for the national championship heading into last week’s contest in Tucson. Instead, the Bears blew a 17-3 lead, thanks in part to some highly questionable officiating calls, and they left the desert with a big L. Now, they’ll be lucky to make it into the Rose Bowl because USC looks like it’s turned on the afterburners to finish out its season. The stakes are huge for both teams this week. If Cal wins, it’ll be in the Rose Bowl Game (assuming the team takes care of archrival Stanford at home the following week) … If the Bears lose, they’ll be in the Holiday Bowl, and we all know how much they love that game from a couple years ago … USC needs a win to remain in contention for a national title slot. A loss will likely knock the Trojans into the Holiday Bowl instead. QB Nate Longshore looked awful last week against Arizona with three picks, but that might be due to the fact the Wildcats’ secondary is one of the best in the country. Marshawn Lynch had a big first half and a quiet second half … DeSean Jackson supplied most of the Bears’ fireworks with a 95-yard punt return TD and a 62-yard touchdown reception. Cal will need all of these weapons to be on full firepower against the Trojans. It should be the second best game of the day.

NO. 18 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. The first in a run on ACC schools in the AP rankings (18-21), the Jackets are also the highest ranked team in that supposed super-conference … true, they hardly looked like it on Saturday, struggling to beat hapless North Carolina, 7-0 … with QB Reggie Ball having an off-day and All-America WR Calvin Johnson held in check, coach Chan Gailey could thank Adrian Peterson for the victory … it was because he saw little chance of playing time behind Peterson that Tashard Choice took his game from Oklahoma to Atlanta, and Choice was the difference against Carolina with 119 rushing yards and a touchdown … it probably didn’t help, motivation-wise, that Georgia Tech has already clinched a spot in the ACC title game.

NO. 19 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES. Taking a respite from the chaotic ACC stretch run, Frank Beamer’s Hokies had motivation problems of their own against the Golden Flashes from the Mid-American Conference … Tech’s offense had only a few golden flashes, but the defense held Kent State at arm’s length and Brandon Pace nailed three field goals, giving him 19 in a row … although an earlier two-game slump effectively locked Tech out of the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies can still spoil Wake Forest’s Cinderella season and win state bragging rights against Virginia.

NO. 20 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. BC coach Tom O’Brien will become a huge Virginia Tech fan this week, because the Eagles need Wake Forest to lose its last two games to be able to sneak into the final ACC matchup with Georgia Tech … the Eagles had some problems with winless Duke, needing a second-half spurt to win 28-7, but at least the running game came back … two weeks ago in a loss to Wake Forest, interchangeable tailbacks Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth combined for a constipated 28 yards … against Duke, they each went over 100 … BC closes with surprising Maryland and wounded but still dangerous Miami.

NO. 21 MARYLAND TERRAPINS. As befits their nickname, the Terrapins are slowly working their way up the AP Top 25 list, passing former hares Florida State, Clemson and Miami in succession … Ralph Friedgen’s team has also demonstrated a tortoise-like unflappability, winning its last five games by a total of 13 points and the last two by a single point … part of the reason has been a typically strong defense, but credit also has to go to QB Sam Hollenbach, who has been transformed from an ACC wild thing (15 interceptions against 13 TD passes last season) to an efficient team leader (12 TDs, six picks) … like a good pool hustler, the Terps have been playing just good enough to win … now, they can control their own destiny — closing out with victories over Boston College and Wake will give them the ACC East title.

NO. 22 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. Philip Fulmer’s club finally hit the wall — or, to be exact, two walls (LSU and Arkansas) … the Vols battled valiantly in both those games, but couldn’t stop LSU’s passing game or Arkansas’ rushing attack … moreover, with their own Erik Ainge injured, they couldn’t mount much of an aerial attack themselves … now, with just Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, UT has a good shot at finishing 9-3 and returning most of its key players for next year … common sense would say that Fulmer’s critics will back off for awhile now, but that’s wishful thinking … hey, why don’t JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden play for Tennesee, huh?

NO. 23 BYU COUGARS. Brigham Young had the unfortunate timing of playing last Thursday night against Wyoming in the same time slot as the Rutgers-Louisville game, so the majority of college football fans didn’t get to see how explosive these cats really are. The Cougars returned the opening kickoff 84 yards to the 2-yard line (replays showed it was actually a touchdown but the call wasn’t disputed) and they were off to the races in a 55-7 pummeling of Wyoming. Going up against the Cowboys’ highly rated pass defense, BYU quarterback John Beck was a cool 20 of 26 for 313 yards and 2 TDs (passing Jim McMahon for second on the BYU career passing yardage list along the way) … Clutch senior RB Curtis Brown picked up 92 yards on the ground on 22 touches–he added 24 more yards on three receptions. Senior TE Jonny Harline had six grabs for 104 yards and a TD and WR Michael Reed had two circus catches totaling 69 yards, one of which was a 33-yard TD reception. True freshman WR McKay Jacobson registered a 77-yard punt return score–it was BYU’s first in nine years. The win gave the Cougars a share of the MWC title. They’ll take on New Mexico this weekend in their final home game, with a win earning them the title outright.

NO. 24 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS. The Huskers just won’t go away and are now poised to be playing for the Big 12 championship in two weeks following their 28-27 victory over Texas A&M. True to its conversion as a more balanced, but definitely pass-first ballclub under Bill Callahan, Nebraska put up only 149 yards rushing to 267 yards passing, and it was the passing game that won the game in the end with Zac Taylor hitting Maurice Purify on a 9-yard score with 20 seconds left on the clock. That game-winning drive started on the Nebraska 24-yard line with 1:43 remaining. Taylor was 5 for 10 worth 62 yards on the drive, with the Aggies chipping in a kindly 15-yard penalty to help the cause. The Huskers get a week off before finishing out the regular season at home versus Colorado. It looks like they will draw a rematch with Texas for the conference title on Dec. 2.

NO. 25 CLEMSON TIGERS. How did a team that was leading the nation in high-octane scoring eight games into the season trip, fall and sputter along the last three games and only manage to score a total of 39 points? Perhaps we’ll never know, but the lack of scoring punch led to two losses and a near-miss last week in the Tigers’ 20-14 win over North Carolina State. We think these Tigers are much better than their 8-3 record indicates. This is the type of three-loss powerhouse that would annihilate one of those currently undefeated way out in the West BCS-wannabe teams on a neutral field. Come to think of it, they even share a similar color scheme. Clemson has the week off before hosting in-state rival South Carolina on Nov. 25.

Fourth and inches …

► Can The Rivalry Game be hyped any more than it already is? Not if you’re a Michigan or Ohio State fan. By now, you know that it’s the first time in the history of this storied rivalry where the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have met at the end of the season ranked #1 and #2 in the country. It will be only the fourth time they’ve met as undefeated squads at the end of the season. The winner will take home the Big Ten title and an automatic invite to the Tostitos National Championship game in Arizona on January 8 …

► ***Breaking News Nov 17***: Bo Schembechler passed away today … My sincere condolences to Coach Schembechler’s family, colleagues and former players. He was one of the greatest coaches ever. More importantly, he was a man of integrity and principles. It was my distinct privilege to interview Bo last summer for a book recapping the last 50 years of the Rose Bowl Game. He was gracious and funny, and the love he had for his family, his student-athletes, and his colleagues was obvious.

► Some consolation prize … The team with less points at the end of this year’s Rivalry Game gets the consolation prize of playing in the Rose Bowl Game. There’s something really wrong with college football when “The Granddaddy of Them All” is relegated to the role of a consolation bowl, three out of every four years, thanks to the BCS schedule. And if USC runs the table and winds up playing the Big Ten champion in Arizona, you can thank the BCS brains (how’s that for an oxymoron?) for robbing college football of its greatest postseason tradition and packing the real Rose Bowl Game off to Glendale, Arizona. The beloved ABC Sports play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson aptly referred to the BCS as a “transgression” committed by the college football elitists.

► So, if the BCS didn’t exist … this weekend’s two biggest games, the Pac-10 clash between USC and Cal and the Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan, would decide which two teams were headed to the Rose Bowl Game. The winner of the Rose Bowl would, of course, have an excellent chance of being voted the national champion by the AP sportswriters and the other polls, but it wouldn’t be like that every year. That’s part of the mystique and suspense of the pre-BCS bowl system. Some years you’d get championship caliber match-ups that seemed like they were made in heaven; and other years, you wouldn’t. But you always knew that the Big Ten champion and the Pac-10 champ would be meeting each other on New Year’s Day.

► Bo Knows: “I never set a goal for us to be the national champions. The way I figured it was you win the Big Ten and then you go to the Rose Bowl and you win that game and let the voters figure it out afterward. Our season was a complete success if we won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl Game.” (excerpted from Road to the Rose Bowl, 2005). By the way, Buckeye fans, Woody Hayes preached the same philosophy.

► The BCS decision makers have taken human intelligence and experience (i.e. professional sportswriters who can comprehend and weigh all the nuances that make up a team’s season including SOS, injuries, and such) and turned it over, for the most part, to computer programs incapable of such judgment. That’s why the computers currently have Rutgers ranked ahead of Ohio State and Boise State ahead of Texas and West Virginia … In other words, the computers cannot distinguish between Texas playing without their starting quarterback at Kansas State from Boise State struggling to eek out a victory over San Jose State. Right.

► Terry Bowden’s loopy playoff idea … I’m a bowl game traditionalist and make no apologies for it, but I also believe there is a reasonable way to stage a postseason playoff and preserve the major bowl game traditions. Take a look at the Top 10 Team Playoff idea at the very end of this column and compare it with Terry Bowden’s loopy idea currently being touted as an “exclusive” on Yahoo Sports. Bowden has the Rose Bowl Game being played on December 24 as a quarterfinal game … ditto for the Orange Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl would be on December 23. The national championship would be played in the Emerald Bowl on Jan 9. The Emerald Bowl? Is he nuts–as in Diamond Foods (Emerald Nuts) the sponsor of the bowl? Aside from his total lack of respect for the major bowl game traditions (i.e. tie-ins with New Year’s Day or holiday parades) Bowden fails to account for the decades of experience organizations like the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association have in hosting national championship events. Furthermore, the Emerald Bowl is played in a freakin’ baseball park … does T.B. have any idea what the weather can be like at night in San Francisco in early January? Can you say Mud Bowl?

►One more favorite Bo quote … “I was excited about coaching against Woody because I knew how he thought and how he acted. I told my staff in our very first meeting, ‘We’re not here to beat Indiana, Illinois, or Northwestern because this is the Big Two and Little Eight. We’re here to beat Ohio State and we’re going to do something about it every day to make that happen.’ Woody’s favorite play was off-tackle. We ran that all year long in scrimmage so our defense would recognize it easily when Ohio State ran it.”

► Must reading about The Rivalry … The Ann Arbor News published a colorful, fascinating, and objective history of the Wolverines – Buckeyes rivalry last year in a book titled Unrivaled: Michigan vs Ohio State. Many never-before-seen photos of Woody and Bo and the big games from the 1970s. If you’re a college football fan, it’s a must for your library.

► More RIvalry Game hype–love those ESPN ads … you can download them for free with iTunes right now. You can also purchase the TV telecasts for the 1973, 1997, and 2002 Rivalry Game for a buck-99 each, or all three games, plus this Saturday’s game for $5.99.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What was Bo Schembechler’s career won-loss record against his mentor and greatest rival, Woody Hayes? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game t-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Congratulations to Jim Collins, Denver, Colorado. Jim came up with the correct (and lengthy) answer to this question: “The Air Force Academy Falcons have defeated Notre Dame five times in the past 25 years, including four years in a row during one stretch. When, where, and what were the scores?”

1982: Air Force 30-17 in Colorado Springs
1983: Air Force 23-22 in South Bend
1984: Air Force 21-7 in South Bend
1985: Air Force 21-15 in Colorado Springs
1996: Air Force 20-17 OT in South Bend

►Brady Quinn for Heisman? Here’s what Air Force linebacker Drew Fowler had to say to the Denver Post after facing Quinn the week after BYU’s John Beck visited Colorado Springs: “I think John Beck of BYU is just as good,” Fowler said. “I put Beck right up there with him (Quinn). They’re a good team, but I don’t think they’re any better than BYU from my perspective.” Air Force lost to BYU (33-14) and Notre Dame (39-17) during the past two weeks.

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State 2. Pat White, West Virginia 3. Ray Rice, Rutgers 4. John Beck, BYU 5. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin -TIE- 5. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

►When a suspension really isn’t a suspension … Florida Gators head honcho Urban Meyer imposed a one-game suspension on star defensive lineman Jarvis Moss this week for undisclosed reasons. “Ouch, Coach, that really hurts–what are you doing keeping me out of the big game against the 2-8 Division 1-AA Western Carolina Catamounts?” Hey, Urban: You want to send a strong message to your players that you really mean business regarding team rules? Let Moss play this week and suspend him for next week’s Florida State game.

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (plus 32) over Army Black Knights… Boise State Broncos (plus 37.5) over Utah State Aggies … Wisconsin Badgers (plus 38) over Buffalo Bulls … Florida Gators (no line, duh!) over D-2 Western Carolina Catamounts …

►Best Games of the Week: Michigan Wolverines @ Ohio State Buckeyes … California Golden Bears @ USC Trojans … Virginia Tech Hokies @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons … Auburn Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide … Maryland Terrapins @ Boston College Eagles … Utah Utes @ Air Force Falcons … New Mexico Lobos @ BYU Cougars … Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Texas Tech Red Raiders … Tennessee Volunteers @ Vanderbilt Commodores …

►Upset specials of the week… SJSU’s Spartans failed to finish last week with an 8-point lead at the six-minute mark and punked my upset special over Boise State … Air Force sputtered out of the gate and fell behind too far too soon to challenge the Irish … let’s go with the Falcons again this week over the Utah Utes … and Vandy over the Vols.

►Top 10-Team Playoff … This idea restores conference affiliations with traditional bowl game partners and it places a focus on winning a conference title as the ticket to participate. Quality non-conference wins would be used as bonus points and tie-breakers in the system. Losses to low-rated teams would also affect some of the scoring in order to encourage credible scheduling of out of conference opponents. Here’s how it works:

The six major conference champions are automatically assigned to bowl games hosting the Elite Eight.

The Cotton Bowl and Holiday Bowl would host play-in games to reach the Elite Eight … the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the final Top 15 Playoff poll. A mid-major conference champion has priority over any other team in the Top 15 providing they also have Quality Win points from their non-conference schedule. Historically, you will note that there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool…Boise State would miss out this year because they don’t have any quality wins.

The teams used here are only illustrative:

December 23
Holiday Bowl: Michigan versus West Virginia:
Winner goes to Sugar Bowl
Dec 24
Cotton Bowl: Florida versus Notre Dame:
Winner goes to Fiesta Bowl

Your Elite Eight match-ups would look like this:

Jan 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion (Ohio State) versus Pac-10 champion (USC)
Orange Bowl: ACC champion (Ga. Tech) versus Big East champion (Rutgers)

Jan 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion (Arkansas) versus Holiday Bowl winner
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion (Texas) 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 15
Winner of the Jan 7 and Jan 8 games

This playoff idea only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played … one other key addition to this scenario that adds vitality to the other bowl games … Each conference’s bowl game record could add bonus points to their conference champion’s final Top 15 Poll score the following year…this gives all the teams playing in minor bowls extra incentive since they could be helping their own cause the following year. Another plus is that a playoff scenario entailing this amount of extra games would generate, by conservative estimates, $1.35 million more per school than what they are now receiving. That would allow the NCAA to cut back the regular season to eleven games and keep conference championship games intact.

The negatives to this or any other playoff schedule? A handful of teams would end up playing 15 or 16 games in a season which could be considered unfair to the rest of the schools. Many of these schools would be the same participants, year in, year out. The additional games would also create greater exposure and risk of potential injuries. Feel free to add more in the comments box below.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO.1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (12-0). What more really needs to be said about this year’s Buckeyes? They’ve handled every challenge thrown their way. It’s not easy to be No. 1 with a target on your back all season long … Yes, Ohio State’s defense was about as solid as baby food against Michigan, but it’s a rivalry game and anything goes in a rivalry game, especially this one. Troy Smith pretty much nailed down the Heisman with his leadership and performance against the Wolverines … Buckeye fans are excited to see Chris Wells picking up more running time and sharing the backfield with Antonio Pittman. That’s one heckuva one-two punch coming out of the backfield. Do you think Ohio State cares who they play in the national title game? Nahhh…

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (11-1). Everyone thought a loss to Ohio State would send the Wolverines tumbling down at least a few spots in the polls … obviously, we were all wrong … as of right now, Michigan is going to be replaying Ohio State in the national championship. Is that fair to Ohio State? Don’t ask Michigan, because the Wolverines couldn’t care less. No. 3 USC will have a lot to say about where the Wolverines finally wind up, so it’s really wait and see time. If USC falters against Notre Dame, it will only strengthen Michigan’s position at No. 2. A Trojan win should help them leapfrog Michigan in the polls by the slightest of margins. Anyway, what a week for Wolverine fans … losing a figurehead and leader like Bo Schembechler on the eve of the game seemed to take a lot out of everyone associated with the program. Major kudos to the players for leaving everything they had on the field in Columbus … by the way, are these guys explosive on offense with Manningham back, or what?

NO. 3 USC TROJANS (9-1). The Trojans dispatched the California Golden Bears last week fairly easily after a first-half struggle … there’s something to be said for Pete Carroll’s undefeated record in November … USC has the Rose Bowl automatic invite locked up and two more games to prove it wants to play for the national title. Notre Dame invades the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Trojans’ senior send-off game … there’s a lot at stake in this game and it should be the most-watched clash of the weekend. Can a talented, senior-laden team like Notre Dame, hell-bent on revenge to say the least, come into the Coliseum and end the Trojans’ dominance at this time of year? Stay tuned …

NO. 4 FLORIDA GATORS (10-1). University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer doesn’t refer to Florida State by name … He calls them, “The Team Out West,” says Gator OT Phil Trautwein, “and then he does this chop thing” … Florida has already clinched a spot in the SEC title game, but that won’t erode the significance of Saturday’s road game against the Seminoles … there is Gator tradition involved, for one thing … “We actually have three rivalries that mean a great deal to us,” said Meyer, those being Tennessee, Georgia and “The Team Out West” … the Gators have already dispatched the first two, and pulled off a trifecta last year, yet they have never swept all three “rivalry games” in successive years … football coaches think about such things … then, too, the Gators are part of a crowd of teams with one loss eager to be matched up with Ohio State in the BCS title game … last week was dessert, a 62-0 laugher over Western Carolina (why, one wonders, was that game scheduled for November?) … this week, Meyer’s men will face a Florida State team that can end a dismal season with an exclamation point by spoiling things for the Gators … does Bobby Bowden call Florida “The Team Out East”?

NO 5. ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (10-1). The Hogs are also still clinging to their BCS hopes, and a date with Ohio State is not beyond the realm of possibility … still, they have to beat LSU in their regular-season finale on Friday, then Florida in the SEC title game … and on top of that, Southern Cal has to lose to either Notre Dame or UCLA, because the Trojans hammered Arkansas in the season opener and would have to be rated higher if both finish 11-1 … Houston Nutt’s team did survive a classic “trap” game against Mississippi State last week, winning 28-14 despite a fierce Bulldog defensive effort … Darren McFadden gained 89 yards on the ground and returned a kickoff 92 yards to score.

NO. 6 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (10-1). The Fighting Irish have been untested for several weeks now … will they be able to stand up to another Top 10-caliber team on the road in the heat of the battle? The rivalry between Notre Dame and USC has never been bigger than it is right now … This is the last chance for Brady Quinn to make a statement strong enough to overcome Heisman voters’ predisposition toward Troy Smith. Don’t forget what Smith did to the Irish defense in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, and what Quinn did not do to Ohio State’s ‘D’. That has certainly stuck with a lot of folks and carried over into this season. A second question to be asked at this pre-USC game perspective is, “How far will Notre Dame fall if the Irish lose to the Trojans?” They need to remain in the Top 8 of the BCS for an automatic invite, and in the Top 12 to be considered as an at-large … so, if the Irish are to lose this game, they need to make it close. That should protect them from too much of a tumble in the polls.

NO. 7 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (9-1). The Mountaineers continue to outrun their mistakes, giving up a lot of yardage to Pitt QB Tyler Palko last Thursday but still galloping to a 45-27 “Backyard Brawl” victory on the flying feet of QB Pat White (220 yards rushing) and Steve Slaton (215) … White and Slaton also combined for 130 yards worth of passes … if there was such a thing as two-man football, Rich Rodriguez’s team would probably be unbeatable … as it is, WVU needs to be careful with erratic South Florida this week (Bulls’ QB Matt Grothe can hurt them) before it can take care of business against Rutgers a week later.

NO. 8. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (9-1). The Cardinals are a notch below West Virginia in the polls, but have a leg up in the scramble to represent the Big East in a top-tier bowl … that’s because Louisville beat WVU head-to-head … Cincinnati’s victory over Rutgers was also a big plus for Bobby Petrino’s squad, because if the Cardinals, Mountaineers and Scarlet Knights had all ended up with one conference loss (Louisville beating West Virginia, Rutgers beating Louisville, West Virginia beating Rutgers), the bid would have gone to the team with the highest ranking (at this point, West Virginia) … QB Brian Brohm and WR Harry Douglas had their way with South Florida last week, but Pitt will be pricklier this Saturday.

NO. 9 LSU TIGERS. (9-2). Les Miles’ team can’t win an SEC championship, but the Tigers could still play their way into a high-stakes BCS bowl by overcoming Arkansas in Little Rock on Friday … QB JaMarcus Russell’s numbers (2,581 passing yards, a 68.8 completion percentage, 27 touchdown passes) might have generated a Heisman buzz some years … last weekend, in an overtime victory over Ole Miss, LSU demonstrated once again that it could play to the level of its opponents, then turn it up a notch when it counts … the team’s 22 seniors have a chance to break the four-year class victory record by getting past Arkansas and a bowl opponent.

NO. 10 WISCONSIN BADGERS (11-1). Believe it or not, the Badgers completed their first ever 11-win regular season. Naturally, a victory in the Capitol One Bowl will set another Wisconsin record … Who in the world thought that Wisconsin could play this well under a new, untested head coach? This was supposed to be a rebuilding year! Barry Alvarez knew what he was doing when he named his successor … Bret Bielema was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year this week, and rightly so. Look out for these boys next year …

NO. 11 TEXAS LONGHORNS. (9-2). They say you can’t beat Open Date, but the bye week was definitely a victory for Texas … both QB Colt McCoy (shoulder stinger) and All-American OL Justin Blalock (knee) used the extra downtime to heal from injuries suffered in a loss against Kansas State and are ready for redemption … nevertheless, the loss showed the human side of Mack Brown’s team, and Texas A&M should be primed for an upset … given the problems Texas has experienced in its secondary this season, A&M QB Stephen McGee will no doubt come ready to throw.

NO. 12 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (11-0). Chalk up another cupcake victory for the Broncos, a 49-10 slaughter over the 1-10 Utah State Aggies … one more victory will propel the Broncs into the BCS limelight versus the winner of the Big 12 championship, which most likely will be 11th-ranked Texas. All that remains to be conquered in the Western Athletic Conference is the Nevada Wolfpack … shouldn’t be a stretch since Boise State easily dispatched the Wolfpack 49-14 last year. The big question looming over the Broncos right now is, “How will they be able to hang with a team like Texas in the Fiesta Bowl?” Well, as Duffy Daugherty once said to his Michigan State team, “We all put our pants on the same way…”

NO. 13 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. (9-2). You could make a good case for Bob Stoops as National Coach of the Year, given the fact that he lost QB Rhett Bomar before the season started and Heisman candidate RB Adrian Peterson halfway through … Allen Patrick stood in nicely for Peterson, however, and when he got hurt, third-stringer Chris Brown burned Baylor for 169 rushing yards and a touchdown last week … meanwhile, the Sooner defense has done its part to give the ‘O’ workable field position … this week is the “Bedlam” contest against Oklahoma State and then, in all probability, another primetime bowl … just another year in Norman.

NO. 14 AUBURN TIGERS. (9-2). Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers have already won a bowl game — the Iron Bowl, 22-15, over in-state rival Alabama … or maybe it should be called the Irons Bowl, since Tiger RB Kenny Irons ran for 89 yards and a touchdown and his brother, DB David, picked off John Parker Wilson to thwart ‘Bama’s last scoring opportunity … the victory was one for the thumb, Auburn’s fifth straight win over the receding Crimson Tide (uh, oh, Mike Shula) … once again, the Tigers’ undersized but quick and plucky defense came through, forcing four turnovers, stopping a two-point conversion attempt with an interception and holding Alabama to a field goal after the Tide had first and goal from the three.

NO. 15 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. (9-1). Oh, that wacky Big East … Louisville beats West Virginia, Rutgers beats Louisville, Cincinnati beats Rutgers, 30-11 … playing without starting QB Dustin Grutza, the Bearcats held Scarlet Knight featured back Ray Rice to 54 yards (good enough to break the school’s single-season rushing record, though not enough to lift his team past an inspired opponent), forcing QB Mike Teel up top … Teel managed 232 aerial yards, but Cincinnati picked him off four times … Nick Davila filled in for Grutza and played more than well enough for his team to win, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown and running for another score … “It seems like it’s happened to every team in the Big East,” Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard said. “It happened to West Virginia, it happened to Louisville, and now it’s happened to us. We know we won’t make the national championship, but we can still win the Big East” … he’s right … Rutgers has Syracuse this week, West Virginia the next.

NO. 16 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS (9-2). Two weeks ago, Tech overlooked North Carolina … last Saturday, the Yellow Jackets overwhelmed Duke, 49-21, rolling up 462 yards … Reggie Ball was back to playing Reggieball, throwing three touchdown passes, two to All-American Calvin Johnson … tailback Tashard Choice gained 118 yards, freshman Jamaal Evans had 89, and a good time was had by all … all connected with Georgia Tech, that is — the Blue Devils dropped their 19th straight … Georgia Tech now has to finish with non-conference archenemy Georgia, the ACC Championship Game, and a bowl game.

NO. 17 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (9-2). So far this season, it’s been Ore or else for Virginia Tech … if RB Brandon Ore plays well, the Hokies win … if not, they don’t … that pattern was emphatically shattered last Saturday, however, when Ore went out early with an ankle sprain and his teammates still rolled to a 27-6 victory over 14th-ranked Wake Forest, on the road … Sean Glennon threw a couple of long touchdown passes, Xavier Adibi hauled an interception back 35 yards to score, and the Hokies continued to rebuild a season that seemed to have collapsed after back-to-back ACC losses .. this week, it’s Virginia.

NO. 18 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (9-2) . Maryland dropped its hopes for the ACC title game last Saturday, and Jolonn Dunbar picked them up … twice … Dunbar gave his team a 14-0 lead by returning two fumbles for touchdowns, DeJuan Tribble later ran back an interception 42 yards, and BC cruised, 38-16 … like a baseball pitcher staked to an early lead, Eagles QB Matt Ryan did nothing to undo what Dunbar had done, throwing for 242 yards and two touchdowns and keeping the ball out of Maryland’s hands … BC now finishes the regular season at Miami, where Hurricane coach Larry Coker is believed to be barely hanging on … the Hurricanes’ season is shot, but an upset of the Eagles wouldn’t hurt.

NO. 19 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. (8-3). The last time Tennessee lost to Kentucky, whom it plays this week, Ronald Reagan was president – in other words, Philip Fulmer’s Vols have triumphed 21 years in a row over the Wildcats, giving new meaning to that song “My Old Kentucky Home” … the Wildcats still have a shot at bowl eligibility, however, and Andre Woodson can make plays at quarterback … Erik Ainge returned to form for Tennessee against Vanderbilt, completing 21 of 26 passes for 266 yards, and LaMarcus Coker ran all over the Commodores … Tennessee WR Robert Meacham needs only 22 yards in receptions to break his school’s single-season receiving yardage record … he’s currently at 1,149.

NO. 20 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS (9-2). Ouch, that 27-6 smack-down at the hands of the Hokies hurt, but the Deacons can bounce back this week and win the Atlantic Division of the ACC with a victory over Maryland. If they can’t get the job done and Boston College beats Miami, then BC gets the division crown. If BC loses and the Deacons lose, Maryland gets the nod for the ACC title game. What a crazy conference this year … Wake Forest lost at home to the Terps last year, 22-12 … what’s in store for them on the road in Maryland? It should be a furious battle with more at stake than ever before between these two teams …

NO. 21 BYU COUGARS (9-2). Brigham Young wrapped up the Mountain West Conference title last week with an impressive 42-17 victory over the New Mexico Lobos. It marks the first conference title for the Cougars since 2001, as well as the first undefeated home season since that year. Senior RB Curtis Brown broke the BYU career rushing mark on his second carry of the game – a 49-yard TD scamper. He has 845 yards rushing on the year off 172 carries (a 4.9 Y.P.C. average) … he also happens to be the leading receiver with 51 receptions good for 480 yards. QB John Beck earned his sixth MWC Offensive Player of the Week award with 464 yards passing and 4 TD tosses. Next up is the biggest rivalry game in the Rocky Mountain region with the Utah Utes … The Utes have secured second place and are probably headed to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, but they claim the BYU game is always more important to them … the Utes have taken advantage of the Cougars in their recent down years and BYU looks stronger than it has since its No. 5 finish in the 1996 AP Poll. This is a must-see game on CSTV this Saturday.

NO. 22 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (9-2). It really looks like Nate Longshore is about a year away from leading the Bears to a victory over USC … that would be a home game next year in Berkeley. For the time being, the loss to the Trojans stings like the dickens, because a victory would have secured Cal the Rose Bowl invitation for the first time in 49 years … the Bears get a bye this week and then host cross-bay rival Stanford Cardinal on Dec. 2. Look for the Bears to take a lot of their frustrations out on the hapless Cardinal in that game, and then it’s off to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

NO. 23 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (8-3). The Huskers had last week off and will be hosting the 2-9 Colorado Buffaloes this weekend with the North Division crown of the Big 12 and a berth in the conference title game in their back pocket. This should be a tune-up of sorts for Nebraska, so look for it to get really ugly in terms of running up the score on the Buffs … there’s still a lot of hard feelings from when the Buffs ran it up on them a few years back …

NO. 24 CLEMSON TIGERS (8-3). Clemson had last weekend off, too, and will close out its season at home against SEC in-state rival South Carolina. Last year’s game was a 13-9 squeaker won by the Tigers, and this year’s matchup should prove to be just as close. The rumors flying around about Steve Spurrier being a leading candidate for the Miami Hurricanes’ head coaching slot adds a nice twist to this game since Clemson is an ACC contender every year. One way or another, the Tiger fans are going to have to get used to seeing Spurrier around for quite a while…

NO. 25 HAWAII WARRIORS (9-2). The newest entry to the AP Top 25 poll, the Warriors have been lighting up their scoreboard out on the island with their pass-first, ask-questions-later-offense with gunslinger QB Colt Brennan. Both of Hawaii’s losses have come by just one score to Alabama and Boise State on the road. Aside from those games, the team’s schedule looks about as pathetic as the Broncos’. A mid-tier Big Ten team (Purdue) comes to the islands to gussy up the Warriors SOS and we’ll see if that makes any difference. The following week, Oregon State will hop over to Oahu for the final regular-season game of the year for both teams. That should prove to be more of a test, although John David Booty and his Trojan receivers lit up the skies against OSU in their upset loss a few weeks ago. In case you are wondering, Hawaii gets an exemption for its time zone/travel differential and is allowed to play an extra game each year to generate revenues that offset its stateside travels.

Fourth and inches …

► One-half of the title game equation is solved … but it’s interesting to see the arguments being bandied about around the country regarding whether Michigan should have the right to play Ohio State again for the national championship. The loudest whiner is Florida’s Urban Meyer … compare his rants with the classy responses coming from USC’s Pete Carroll … Carroll lets the Trojans’ schedule speak for itself, something Meyer cannot possibly rest his case on when the Gators’ schedule has them playing powers like the Division II Western Carolina Catamounts … anyway, there’s still two more weeks of games to play, so let’s just sit back and see what happens …

► Folks, wake up and thank the BCS … it’s the system’s computer ranking formulas that are to blame for much of the problems that still exist … do you think the BCS will ever release how those computer rankings are programmed? Like I mentioned last week, computers cannot comprehend or take into consideration key injuries, rivalries and other important factors that qualified sportswriters are able to weigh in their voting. Have you ever checked out the CollegeFootballNews poll at CFN.Scout.com? They’ve got Ohio State, Michigan and USC in their top three … no shock there, but then they rank Wisconsin at No. 5 and BYU at 11th … Boise State is at No. 24 on their list …

► The USC-Notre Dame game this weekend … is conjuring up some of those lame “Bush Push” complaints from last year’s thrilling 34-31 Trojan victory in South Bend … I’ve watched that play over and over and I still fail to see how Bush can be accused of really PUSHING Matt Leinart across the goal line. Sure, his hands push against Leinart’s back slightly, but look at his posture … there’s no way he is really putting an effort forth … besides, Leinart didn’t need the help. His legs are doing the work to get across the goal line.

► The rumors are pretty strong that this could be the last straw for Arizona State’s Dirk Koetter, Miami’s Larry Coker, and North Carolina State’s Chuck Amato. Coker needs a win for Miami to become bowl eligible as the ‘Canes try to play spoiler this weekend in the ACC and knock Boston College out of contention for the conference title game … Koetter’s Sun Devils play archrival Arizona on the road, and the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country … ASU is already bowl eligible, but a loss will render the Devils a dismal 6-6 on the season heading into a third-tier bowl game … Amato cannot afford NC State losing to East Carolina …

► Rivalry Games almost always live up to their hype … you can take whatever stats and tendencies are on paper and throw them out the window. Ohio State and Michigan proved that once again last week when the majority of experts thought their clash would be a low-scoring affair. USC and Notre Dame proved it last year and they’ll do it again this year … this weekend’s rivalry games worth watching include Texas A&M at Texas, Brigham Young at Utah, South Carolina at Clemson, Georgia Tech at Georgia, and Oregon at Oregon State …

► Bowl game matchup predictions … Tostitos National Championship Game: Ohio State and USC will break the Rose Bowl’s heart, thanks to the BCS, and play in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 8 … The Rose Bowl Game will end up featuring Michigan and Notre Dame, a first for their rivalry … The Fiesta Bowl will offer a Texas and Boise State pairing … The Sugar Bowl will have Arkansas and West Virginia … The Orange Bowl will feature Georgia Tech and Louisville …

►MWC Commish Craig Thompson … has detractors mounting around the conference and it was no more apparent than when he was soundly booed by BYU fans last week as he presented the conference trophy to coach Bronco Mendenhall following the Cougars’ 42-17 victory over New Mexico. MWC fans, and particularly those backing BYU, TCU, San Diego State and UNLV, are still irate over the horrible mess that’s been made of their former TV deal with ESPN …

► the mtn debacle … Thompson led the MWC school presidents and athletic directors to believe that a better deal could be had with the fledgling CSTV network … Indeed, things were looking pretty swell when CBS Sports bought CSTV, but CBS hasn’t brought anything substantial to the mix so far … CSTV ended up partnering with Comcast to launch a Mountain West Conference channel called “the mtn.” Nice idea, poor execution, as “the mtn.” failed to get a satellite deal secured that would offer instant national coverage … as a result, “the mtn.” cannot be seen in any west coast state, such as Arizona, Texas and Nevada. In other words, BYU’s huge fan base in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona cannot see their team on a traditional television channel for most games … ditto for SDSU, UNLV and TCU fans. CSTV responded by offering games online at $14.95 a pop a few weeks ago … and so, the MWC football schedule winds up this week without having a satellite deal in place to carry “the mtn.” … stay tuned (except for you MWC fans living in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Nevada or Texas)…

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: Who were the first two teams to play into overtime in a bowl game–and what was the bowl and final score? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official Rose Bowl Game T-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is… Congratulations to Jamie Southwick of New York … Jamie correctly answered the question: “What was Bo Schembechler’s career won-loss record against his mentor and greatest rival, Woody Hayes?” Bo was 5-4-1 against Woody Hayes.

►Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State; 2. Pat White, West Virginia; 3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 4. John Beck, BYU; 5. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin.

►Pad the Stats Games of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers (plus-21) over South Florida Bulls … Hawaii Warriors (plus-18–and it should be more) over Purdue Boilermakers … Rutgers Scarlet Knights (no line) over Syracuse Orange …

►Best Games of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ USC Trojans … BYU Cougars @ Utah Utes … LSU Tigers @ Arkansas Razorbacks … Texas A&M Aggies @ Texas Longhorns … Florida Gators @ Florida State Seminoles … South Carolina Gamecocks @ Clemson Tigers … Oklahoma Sooners @ Oklahoma State Cowboys … Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Maryland Terrapins … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ Georgia Bulldogs … Louisville Cardinals @ Pittsburgh Panthers …

►Upset Specials of the Week… Florida State awakens from its coma and surprises Florida … Oklahoma State defends its home turf successfully against the invading Sooners …