Archive for year 2006

Fourth and inches …

► Say what? You might be going on a mission? The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that California Golden Bears QB Nate Longshore is contemplating when he will serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormons. The operative word in the article is “when,” not “if.” The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Longshore, who is currently rated one of the top college quarterbacks (151.7 passer rating, 1,877 yards, 17 TDs, seven INTs) and rapidly growing into an NFL-caliber signal caller with every new game under his belt, is quoted as saying: “I’m definitely going to go at some point, but timing is really the issue.” His older brother Nick served a two-year mission to the Philippines and is currently on BYU’s roster, listed as a senior offensive lineman.

But why didn’t Longshore opt to go on his mission after breaking his leg in last year’s season opener? Allowing healing time for his leg before departing, he could have returned in time for the 2008 season with three years of eligibility remaining. In hindsight, the redshirt sophomore’s timetable for serving a mission seems a bit off-kilter, now that he is leading one of the most potent scoring machines in college football to possibly its first ever BCS bowl appearance. Nevertheless, if he is truly intent on serving a mission, it would seem that the timing dictates leaving after this season. That would give him two more seasons to play after he returns from his voluntary service.

Jeff Tedford, who welcomed All-American center Marvin Philip (now with the Steelers) back to the Cal program following the completion of his mission in 2003, might also have to recruit his starting quarterback all over again, since 18 months into his two-year mission, Longshore would become eligible to transfer without penalty to any other Division I-A program. If you don’t think that could happen, take a look at Ben Olson, UCLA’s redshirt sophomore QB. He spent his freshman year riding the bench at BYU, served a two-year mission in Canada, and then transferred to UCLA upon his return to the States. Arguably, Longshore’s situation is dramatically different, in that he has already claimed the starting QB slot at Cal and has ably proven himself during the course of the Bears’ 7-1 start this season. The success of this season could very well weigh heavily upon his decision-making, especially if Cal finally busts into the BCS.

For the record, most LDS student-athletes plan to begin their missions soon after they turn 19 years of age, the minimum age limit for Mormon missionaries. Can you imagine the headaches BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall faces with this situation affecting 15 to 20 of his student-athletes each year? A few years ago, Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti lured Haloti Ngata to the Ducks program with promises to let him take leave for a mission. As it turned out, Ngata never did see the mission field. His father was killed in a tragic auto accident during his freshman season, and the following year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Ngata turned in an All-American performance as a junior in 2005, and feeling the weight of responsibility to provide for his siblings, opted to join the pro ranks as an underclassman. He was a first-round pick (12th overall) to the Baltimore Ravens in this year’s NFL draft. Serving a mission after Longshore graduates from Cal would appear to be out of the question, considering that a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract from an NFL team would not sit on the table for two years.

►Jacksonville is a neutral site for the annual Georgia Bulldogs-Florida Gators clash? Can someone please explain to me how Jacksonville can be considered a neutral site for this game? The Gators’ home in Gainesville, Fla. is just 73 miles from Jacksonville, while the Bulldogs’ hometown of Athens, Ga. is 342 miles to the north. Formerly known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” it still fits the bill–we’re just not supposed to call it that anymore. In May of this year, the SEC requested that the nickname be dropped in order to distance the schools from any connections to the lush life. Wikipedia says that the official name of the annual contest is the “Georgia-Florida/Florida-Georgia Game.”

►Charlie Weis, a.k.a. the Roundtable Pizza spokesguy’s dad is quickly becoming one of the whiniest coaches on the D-IA circuit … during his press conference this week, he lamented Notre Dame’s one-slot drop in the AP poll and questioned how that could possibly happen after the Irish eeked out a 20-17 last-second home win over the UCLA Bruins. Uh, coach, anyone watching the Irish play against UCLA last weekend saw your team get whipped for 59 minutes and 20 seconds … we’re talking about a 4-3, middle of the pack, Pac-10 Bruins team playing with a second-string quarterback on the road in Golden Domer heaven … do you want to explain to us how that could possibly happen?

►Michigan State’s shocking comeback win over Northwestern last weekend is another tangible example of how momentum plays a huge role in college football outcomes. The Wildcats controlled the first half of the game and held the momentum well into the third quarter when they climaxed with a 38-3 lead. Slowly, the Spartans inched their way back into the game, seizing the momentum for good in the fourth quarter when Slade Larscheid’s punt was blocked and Ashton Henderson scooped it up and returned 33 yards to make the score 38-24. Everyone is saying that this comeback will save John L. Smith’s job at MSU, but I think he’s still on his way out. The sting of blowing the Notre Dame game and getting punked by Illinois is far greater than any new juice this game can give Smith. The Spartans are on track for a 7-5 or 6-6 season, good enough for one of the Big Ten’s low-tier bowl games.

►A quick must-read …SI.com’s Stewart Mandel has an item called “The Agony of Defeat – A First Hand Account” at the end of his column this week … Northwestern fans will, no doubt, be able to relate, but so will anyone else who has witnessed their team lose a nerve-jangling shocker.

QuickSnap Question presented by Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Beverly Hills: What is the origin of the use of the word “gridiron” in football terminology? Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you an official RealFootball365.com t-shirt. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►And the winner of last week’s QuickSnap Question is…Rich Grabmeier, of Shawnee, Kan. becomes our first back-to-back winner…Rich was the first to correctly answer the question: “What is the motivational reminder on the yellow sign that Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players always touch before running onto the field?” The answer was: “Play Like a Champion Today.” By the way, Rich, we just want to warn you that you may be in danger of morphing into the next Ken Jennings.

►Heisman’s Dark Horse Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois Huskies…You read it here last week…I put the Wolfe Man on probation and he was stuffed a second week in a row, this time by Temple. Yes, that Temple…so goodbye, G.W…it was fun while it lasted…unfortunately, not even a 200-yard game against Iowa this week would resurrect your Heisman chances…it’s too late in the season and Troy Smith’s train has left the station…

►Stats Padding Games of the Week: Boston College Eagles (plus 36) sink their talons into some 1-6 Buffalo Bulls…Hawaii Warriors (plus 25.5) ambush the Idaho Vandals…and the Arkansas Razorbacks (plus 37) sink their tusks into the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.

►Best Games of the Week: Clemson Tigers @ Virginia Tech Hokies … UTEP Miners @ Tulsa Golden Hurricane … Oklahoma Sooners @ Missouri Tigers … Georgia Bulldogs @ Florida Gators … Miami Hurricanes @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets … Texas Longhorns @ Texas Tech Red Raiders … Tennessee Volunteers @ South Carolina Gamecocks … BYU Cougars @ Air Force Falcons … Ohio Bobcats @ Kent State Golden Flashes … Wyoming Cowboys @ TCU Horned Frogs … Washington State Cougars @ UCLA Bruins … USC Trojans @ Oregon State Beavers …

►Upset Specials of the Week…It’s a Thursday night game and Virginia Tech is the host…ba-da-bing! Hokies over the Clemson Tigers … the Baylor Bears are getting their act together with their new spread offense and I can see them laying a few more points on the Texas A&M Aggies than their defense surrenders … here’s one more stretch-o-matic pick: South Carolina Gamecocks over the Tennessee Volunteers … if Steve Spurrier can’t get his boys up for this one, the season’s in the toilet with no better than a 6-6 record. Look at the ‘Cocks last four games: Arkansas, at Florida, breather, at Clemson. Ouch.

Fourth and inches …

USC’s shocking loss to Oregon State last week opened the door to the national title game wide open for West Virginia, Florida, and a handful of other contenders. We’ll know if the Mountaineers are going to accept the gift before this weekend ever hits. Their huge conference bout with Louisville is perhaps one of the most anticipated Thursday night games on ESPN in years. You’d think Cal would be ecstatic with the USC loss, now that they are sitting in first place in the Pac-10 all by their lonesome, but it doesn’t quite work that way. Unless USC loses another conference game, the Golden Bears will have to beat the Trojans in the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 18. It’s an ABC Sports Saturday Night special, with the opening kick-off scheduled for 8PM Eastern.

USC fans who operate L.A. area hospitality-driven businesses were hoping to see their beloved Trojans playing in the Tostitos national championship game on January 8, while being able to welcome two sets of out-of-town fans flooding into the area for the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day … USC’s loss pretty much wiped out their hope for the title game, but a Rose Bowl appearance is still theirs to lose … Cal hasn’t made an appearance in the Rose Bowl Game since 1959 and their fan base is counting on invading the Los Angeles basin twice within a six week period this winter.

Individual game tickets for the Buckeyes season ender with Michigan are ranging from $350 per seat up to more than $1,200 each.  Some students are reporting offers of $2,000 for their tickets.  Do you think the Big Ten Conference just might renew the idea of expanding to 12 schools so they can stage a conference championship game in football each year? Imagine the revenues they could reap from a TV contract and sellouts for the title game every year at Chicago’s Soldier Field (61,500 seats). Gross revenues from ticket sales alone would easily exceed $7.5 million annually … play the game at a north or south division champion’s home field each year (as in Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State) and you could conservatively figure an additional $5 million in ticket sales alone, thanks to the seating capacities at those campus stadiums.

Make a note of these up and coming freshmen QBs …You’ve been hearing a lot all season long about some super frosh quarterbacks like Colt McCoy (Texas) Mitch Mustain (Arkansas) and Tim Tebow (Florida) but here’s a few freshman quarterbacks you probably haven’t heard of yet—but you will in the coming years … Juice Williams, Illinois … Jake Christensen, Iowa … Nick Graziano, Nevada.

Last week, Graziano, a hard-nosed 6’1” 220 freshman who also excelled at middle linebacker in high school, was 7 for 9, 69 yards, 1 TD, plus 31 yards rushing off one carry against New Mexico State in the first action he’s seen this year for the Wolf Pack. He will probably be leaving on a LDS mission for two years after this season, but he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He comes from the same high school conference that produced former Miami All-American and current Cleveland Browns back-up QB Ken Dorsey.

Christensen, a 6’1”, 205 southpaw prep All-American from Lockport, Illinois, became the first redshirt freshman signal caller to start for Iowa since 2000. He was 19 of 30 passes, 256 yards, and 2 TDs in the Hawkeyes’ win last week over Northern Illinois. He is projected to be Iowa’s starting QB next year.

Williams is a 6’2”, 220 lb. true freshman out of Chicago’s Vocational High … he was thrown into the fire for the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini this season.  He’s thrown for 1,252 yards and rushed for 535 yards in 9 games this season…I expect him to be a Troy Smith-type impact player before his college days are over.

We projected in last week’s column that John L. Smith was not long for his job in East Lansing … sure enough, Michigan State handed Coach Smith his walking papers yesterday. He will finish out the season while MSU searches for his replacement. We projected the Spartans would end up 7-5 or 6-6, however 7-5 is highly unlikely as it would require three consecutive wins over Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State to close out the season. Do you think Coach Smith wishes he were back in Louisville again right now? He was 41-21 with the Cardinals and made five consecutive bowl appearances from 1998 to 2002 before leaving for the Big Ten Conference coaching opportunity with the Spartans.

Heisman Watch … 1. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 2. Pat White, West Virginia,  3. Erik Ainge, Tennessee, 4. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin, 5. John Beck, BYU.

Pad the Stats Games of the Week: Boise State Broncos (plus 25) over Fresno State Bulldogs … USC Trojans (plus 29) over Stanford Cardinal … Auburn Tigers (plus 31) over Arkansas State Indians … Notre Dame Fighting Irish (plus 27.5) over North Carolina Tar Heels … Michigan Wolverines (plus 33.5) over Ball State Cardinals.

Best Games of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers @ Louisville Cardinals … Boston College Eagles @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons … Oklahoma Sooners @ Texas A&M Aggies … LSU Tigers @ Tennessee Volunteers … Arkansas Razorbacks @ South Carolina Gamecocks … Missouri Tigers @ Nebraska Cornhuskers … Penn State Nittany Lions @ Wisconsin Badgers … Virginia Tech Hokies @ Miami Hurricanes … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets @ North Carolina State Wolfpack … Tulsa Golden Hurricane @ Houston Cougars

This Week’s Upset Specials … I really have to go out on a limb this week to find a couple possibilities … Let’s say Texas A&M over Oklahoma, thanks to the Aggies’ home field advantage… and, Arizona State takes the wind out of Oregon State’s sails in Corvallis just one week after the Beavers’ big upset over USC.

A Return to Glory Days?

There aren’t many 6-2 teams left in Division I-A right now– eight to be exact. And there is only one 6-2 team in the country that can easily say it is two plays away from being undefeated. It’s a team of cool-headed cats that are on fire right now with five wins in a row and a two-game lead in the race for their conference title. We’re not talking about Tigers, as in LSU, or Panthers, as in Pitt. We’re talking about Cougars, as in BYU.

Led by second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Brigham Young is intent on bringing back the glory days of Cougar football, which flourished under Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards, and then withered for several years under Gary Crowton, who now serves as the Oregon Ducks’ offensive coordinator.

Mendenhall took over the reins of the BYU program last year and was wise enough to keep longtime assistant coach Lance Reynolds on the staff. Reynolds, a former player under Edwards, and beloved by every crop of student-athletes since his playing days concluded, had been the top internal contender for the head coaching position. The fact that Mendenhall kept him onboard, and that Reynolds wanted to stay, speaks volumes about the character of these two men and their belief that the football program Edwards built was greater than any individual.

Several other key personnel were either brought on board last year with the regime change, or retained from the former administration. Chief among the new hires was Robert Anae, a former Cougar who played on four straight WAC championship teams in the 1980s and was offensive line coach at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. Anae brought the old BYU playbook (that Leach had modified at Tech) back with him to Provo and the team’s ability to execute the finer points of the playbook confidently increases with every game.

Former all-conference quarterback Brandon Doman was brought in from a backup role in the NFL to coach the signal callers. Jeff Grimes, the offensive line coach, was retained after serving one year in the Crowton administration. He had previously coached at Arizona State under Dirk Koetter with great success and is extremely popular with the Cougar O-linemen.

On the defensive side of the ball, Mendenhall retained himself as the defensive coordinator and kept the staff mostly intact. Chief among the retained assistants was line coach Steve Kaufusi, a former Cougar lineman who had achieved a great deal of success with BYU’s biggest rival, Utah. Kaufusi is also a very popular coach with his D-linemen and an extremely valuable recruiter.

The most recent addition to the defensive coaching unit, secondary coach Jaime Hill, has paid immediate dividends this season. Hill retrained several players in their technique and essentially shored up a group of defenders who were repeatedly picked on last year as the Achilles’ heel of the BYU defense. This year, the Y is second in interceptions in the MWC with 12 picks, and Cougar defenders have been holding opposing passing attacks to nearly 70 yards less per game than last year.

It isn’t possible to single out every individual coach on BYU’s staff, but they are all goal-oriented, team players in their own right, working with their positional players to buy into the “one-for-all and all-for-one” team concept that has taken deep root in the program again.

Watching Brigham Young on the road in Colorado Springs this past weekend, one couldn’t help but begin to reminisce about the glory days of BYU football under Edwards. These new era Cougars play like their care about their heritage and the legacy they have been charged to uphold.

QB John Beck seems to have finally turned the corner in his maturation as one of the school’s more elite passers. He marches the Y offense up and down the field, eating up clock and deftly finding the open receiver regardless of zone or man coverage. Beck’s improvised shovel pass to Fui Vakupuna for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter of the Air Force game averted a sure sack and was a transcendent moment on the field.

Enough can’t be said about the youthful defensive line and the swift, hard-hitting linebacker corps. They executed assignment football to near-perfection against the Falcons, who came into the game with one of the top five ranked rushing attacks in the nation. Time after time, Cougar defenders could be seen chasing down the speedy Falcon running backs from behind like they were prey in the open field.

“Their defense is a little bit stronger than I thought it was coming into the game,” said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.

The final score of 33-14 doesn’t adequately convey how thoroughly convincing the victory was over the Falcons on Saturday. BYU led 24-0 midway through the third quarter, and seemed to take its foot off the gas until Air Force scored to cut the lead to 17. The Cougars quickly revved their offensive engine back into turbo mode and laid nine quick points on the board to create a 33-7 cushion. The Falcons’ final score came during the final moments of the contest, long after the outcome had been decided.

Brigham Young returns to Colorado this weekend to face the Colorado State Rams. The Cougars then have a two-game homestand against the Wyoming Cowboys and New Mexico Lobos before winding up the regular season against archrival Utah in Salt Lake City. It’s conceivable this Cougar team could run the table in the conference and end up with a perfect record. Don’t bother asking any of the players about it, though. Bronco Mendenhall has them properly focused on the season, keeping their cool and their sights set on one game at a time.

If BYU does manage to finish the regular season with a 10-2 mark and undefeated in conference play, it will be a shame that they will be relegated to an early bowl season matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl as MWC champions. The way the Cougars are playing right now, they could easily match up with most of the top 15 teams in the country.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. These guys are like a hurricane that slowly began developing back in the late summer, gradually feeding off its own power and consuming other energy fields around it … surging ominously into a Category 5 monster as the season progressed, mowing down every obstacle in its path. Can it possibly be stopped? Ask the Minnesota Golden Gophers who were pounded into submission, 44-0, or the Indiana Hoosiers, who fell 44-3 a week earlier. Ahhh, you know it’s a banner year when you can bring the Golden Bear back to campus and let him dot the “i” on the scripted “Ohio” in the Buckeye band’s world-famous marching maneuver. The Buckeyes average 35.9 points per game and yield a national low of 7.3 each week — more than a four-TD difference. They bend but won’t break on the defense … you won’t see them leading defensive categories like total passing or rushing yards allowed, but you will see them leading the nation in turnover advantage (including 19 interceptions). Only Illinois and Northwestern stand between Ohio State and its historic date with Michigan on Nov. 18. That shouldn’t stop this monster storm one bit.

NO. 2 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. A lot of critics are trying to draw parallels between the Wolverines’ close scoring games since Mario Manningham went down with a knee injury … they fail to give credit to solid teams like Penn State and Iowa (Drew Tate said Michigan has a stronger defense than Ohio State) and the occasional rise and shout performance like Northwestern turned in last week following its embarrassing collapse to Michigan State the week before. It’s the Big Ten, folks. Deal with it. There’s only a couple weak links out of 11 teams in the conference and even these weaker links can pull it together for a solid fight every once in a while … sure, it will be nice to have Manningham back, but the Wolverines are intent on getting the job done any way they can this year. Ball State’s a breather this week, but surprising Indiana will put up one heckuva fight in Bloomington the following week … you know the score — it’s these two teams that stand in the way before Michigan gets to invade The Horseshoe in Columbus. Count on Lloyd Carr’s troops to make it there with an unblemished record.

NO. 3 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. It’s hard to think of any more to say about Thursday’s West Virginia-Louisville matchup, except that Saturday’s upset of Southern Cal by Oregon State makes it even bigger… Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia and No. 5 Louisville are now the only undefeated BCS-candidate teams left, besides Boise State, which is ranked 15th … since OSU and the Wolverines must also play each other, that could leave only two highly ranked unbeatens at the end of the season … thus, if whoever emerges on top in Thursday’s game then runs the table in the rest of its conference schedule — not a given, by any means — it would be very difficult to keep the Big East champion out of a title game … moreover, West Virginia’s schedule is beginning to look more BCS-friendly … among its earlier victims, Maryland is now 6-2, East Carolina is first in Conference USA and Marshall might make it to a bowl … meanwhile, the five teams remaining on the Mountaineers’ schedule all have winning records … Steve Slaton is having a watershed season at tailback, but the real key to the WVU offense is QB Pat White … when the running game stalled a bit against East Carolina, White opened things up with his passing … he may be called upon to do that again on Thursday.

NO. 4 TEXAS LONGHORNS. In order to find a Texas QB to compare with Colt McCoy, it’s necessary to go back nearly 60 years, when Bobby Layne was under center for the Longhorns … like McCoy, Layne was known more for his toughness and tenacity than his physical gifts, but still managed to throw for over 3,000 yards in his UT career … “Layne never lost a game,” Doak Walker said of him. “Time just ran out on him” … and so it is, apparently, with redshirt freshman McCoy … down 21-0 to Texas Tech after the first quarter, McCoy led his team back with 256 passing yards and four touchdown passes, the last to Quan Cosby with just over six minutes left … the Longhorn defense then rose up and stopped Tech twice on fourth-down plays, and Texas survived, 35-31 … nevertheless, it had to be sobering for coach Mack Brown to watch Red Raider QB Graham Harrell make lunch meat out of his secondary, throwing for 519 yards … with Oklahoma State and Bobby Reid coming up next and Texas now ranked 112th in the country in pass defense, that has to be a concern.

NO. 5 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. The sellout crowd at Papa John Stadium in Louisville Thursday night will be treated to a supersized football game with the works — two teams arguably the best in the Big East in offense, defense and special teams … Louisville is second nationally in total offense, the Mountaineers fifth … Louisville has won 15 straight games at home, West Virginia has won 15 straight games overall … Cardinal QB Brian Brohm and the West Virginia duo of QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton have all been the subject of Heisman chatter … the plusses for Louisville include the advantage of playing at home and perhaps a little more balance in the offense … talk about spreading the ball around equally — Louisville’s two top receivers, Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia, both have 520 receiving yards … in addition, TE Gary Barnidge (like Urrutia, 6-foot-6) is becoming more and more a part of the offensive game plan … the Cardinals also have one of the nation’s top kickers, Art Carmody, a definite plus in what should be a close game … on the downside, injuries have left Bobby Petrino’s team young on defense, starting two sophomores and a true freshman (free safety Laturrius Thomas) … with two teams this evenly matched, the difference may well boil down to luck and turnovers.

NO. 6 AUBURN TIGERS. In the meantime, the 8-1 Auburn Tigers just keep hanging around, relying on a stout defense, a handful of offensive playmakers and sheer grit … like RB Kenny Irons, who went into battle against Ole Miss Saturday with a bad ankle, then said: “As the game went on, I just quit thinking about it” … he wound up contributing 106 rushing yards to a 23-17 victory on the road … QB Brandon Cox has also been hampered by various aches and pains, but completed 21 of 34 passes for 253 yards against the Rebels … Auburn committed two turnovers in Oxford (uncharacteristic for a team that has been making hardly any mistakes), but the defense intercepted Rebel QB Brent Schaefer twice down the stretch to tip the balance, and PK John Vaughn became the school’s all-time leader in scores by foot, nailing a trio of three-pointers … or then again, maybe the victory should be credited to offensive guard Tim Duckworth, a Mississippi product who has never lost a college game in his home state.

NO. 7 FLORIDA GATORS. It’s a common-sense sign you can see all over Florida: “Danger — Don’t Feed the Gators” … unfortunately, the Georgia Bulldogs failed to heed the warning, feeding three fumbles and a pair of interceptions to the Florida Gators’ hungry defense and losing 21-14 in the game once billed as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” … after a touchdown reception and a scoring run by Andre Caldwell put Florida up 14-0, Gator DE Ray McDonald shook the ball loose from Bulldog back Kregg Lumpkin and took it nine yards to the end zone for an insurance touchdown that turned out to be badly needed … Florida also sacked freshman Georgia QB Matthew Stafford four times, making up for a Gator offense that sputtered all day … Percy Harvin was the leading Florida rusher with 37 yards, and QB Chris Leak hit only 14 of 28 passes for 163 yards — not awful, but not what Gator fans have come to expect from their senior quarterback … “In six years I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about an offense,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to start immediately. In fact, we’re going to start tonight to get this thing right” … here’s a punishment — make the offense play against the first-team defense all night … chomp!

NO. 8 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS. Revenge is always a tasty post-game snack, but Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer let the plate pass him by after his team’s 31-24 victory over South Carolina in Columbia last Saturday night … he could have said, for instance, “You can’t spell Music City (Bowl) without U-S-C,” paraphrasing a gibe Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier once tossed at Fulmer when Spurrier was coaching Florida … instead, Fulmer just said: “He (Spurrier) is a good coach. I don’t know where all that got started” … last year, South Carolina put the final nail in a brutal Tennessee season by upsetting the Vols at Rocky Top … this year, Erik Ainge threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns to Bret Smith as Tennessee got payback, coincidentally lifting Fulmer one game ahead of Spurrier as the all-time leader in SEC coaching victories … South Carolina QB Syvelle Newton, the closest thing to Michael Vick on the college scene this year, almost pulled it out, however, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 85 yards and another score; Fulmer didn’t have much time to savor the victory — Ainge injured his ankle late in the game and didn’t practice early in the week … and, as luck would have it, this is the week LSU — still in the SEC running — comes to town with its fearsome defensive line and all-world secondary.

NO. 9 USC TROJANS. You knew it was going to happen sooner or later this season after those three straight close shaves with Wazzu, Washington and ASU … however, most of us thought it would come at the hands of Cal or Oregon, perhaps even Notre Dame … but, Oregon State? Those same Beavers that got thrashed at the beginning of the season by Boise State on the blue rug? Yup, ‘cept this Beaver team ain’t the same as the one BSU played at the beginning of the year … it just goes to show you the Pac 10 is a lot more solid than the East coast critics are willing to admit. Stanford’s the only doormat in the conference this year … pity the Cardinal this week in Palo Alto when an angry mob of Trojans come to lay waste to anything in sight. Giving credit where it’s due, John David Booty and Steve Smith were on fire together in the final furious last-quarter comeback in Corvallis. You just have to wonder what in the heck Lane Kiffin was thinking calling for a two-step drop and corner toss for the two-point conversion attempt. Why didn’t he roll Booty out to his right and flood the end zone with at least three passing options? May Day! May Day! Calling Norm Chow…

NO. 10 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Cal’s bye week turned out to be pretty sweet as it rested the injured players and geared up for a home stretch that could easily be leading the team back to the Rose Bowl 49 years after the last Cal team played there. Cal needs to win three of its last four games, with USC being one of those wins to make it a reality … that is, unless USC stumbles again in conference play. Then, the Bears could afford to lose to USC and win the other three for the Rose Bowl berth. As if Jeff Tedford didn’t need any distractions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that sophomore sensation QB Nate Longshore was contemplating when to go on a *gasp* two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps he’s just planting the seed now so it won’t come as a shock after Cal plays in its first ever BCS bowl? He’d have two years eligibility remaining if he left after this season. UCLA visits Berkeley this week and the Bruins are smarting a bit after getting whipped in the second half last week by Washington State. That’s the second breakdown in a row after leading at the half the past couple of contests. Still, the Bruins pose the greatest threat to Cal besides USC out of its remaining four games.

NO. 11 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. The Irish claimed their 43rd straight victory over the Naval Academy in their customary romping fashion, 38-14. What’s new? This week, the Golden Domers host the 1-7 North Carolina Tar Heels. Look for Charlie Weis to cry a river when Notre Dame fails to move up in the polls following the whipping the Irish place on the Tobacco Road Gang whose only win came at the expense of DI-AA Furman. Remarkably, Jeff Samardzija only had one reception in the Navy game and he wasn’t very pleased about that. Navy piled up 298 yards rushing against the Irish, a whopping 5.3-yard per carry average. Just when you think the way to beat Notre Dame is through the air, the Midshipmen show you that the front door is really the unsecured entryway for the ground troops … still down the road following the Tar Heels stats padder? Air Force Academy and Army, and then the classic annual contest with USC.

NO. 12 ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. Note to Louisiana Monroe football coach Charlie Weatherbie — recruit a taller punter … Warhawks long snapper Cody Bauman centered the ball over his punter’s head twice for a total of 85 yards in losses last Saturday, both first-half mistakes setting up short Arkansas touchdowns and helping the Razorbacks overcome a sluggish start and roll to a 44-10 victory … Darren McFadden and Felix Jones had their dancing shoes on, with Jones rushing for 141 yards and a touchdown, McFadden amassing 129 yards and scoring twice … McFadden also threw a touchdown pass to Wes Murphy … freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain, economical as always, flipped two short TD passes to Marcus Monk, and punter Jacob Skinner twice pinned the Warhawks inside their own 1-yard line, the second leading to a safety … Saturday’s Razorback game at South Carolina could be one of the most entertaining to watch in the country, the Jones-McFadden show pitted against mercurial Gamecock QB Syvelle Newton … a plus for Arkansas is the return of All-Conference LB Sam Olajubutu.

NO. 13 LSU TIGERS. Last year, the LSU-Tennessee game was overshadowed by a storm, Hurricane Katrina … this year, the meeting between these two teams in Knoxville could be a perfect storm for the Tigers … for one thing, Tennessee QB Erik Ainge is limping with a sprained ankle, enough to cause hulking LSU pass rushers like Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson to smack their lips … then, there’s the revenge incentive … last October, LSU blew a 21-0 halftime lead and lost to the Volunteers in overtime in Baton Rouge … “For me, it (revenge) is most definitely a factor,” said LSU running back Jacob Hester. “The way they celebrated on our field, the way they acted after they won …” … DE Chase Pittman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the Tigers “lost focus” in the second half … nor did it help that Les Miles’ team was zero out of seven in third-down conversions after intermission …Miles gave his players three days off last weekend, and the Bayou Bengals are rested and ready … the catch, of course, is playing in a raucous road environment at Knoxville … LSU still has a shot at the SEC West title if it continues to win and someone else beats Auburn … Tennessee, meanwhile, is 7-1, 3-1 in league play, second in the East Division behind Florida … “It ain’t gonna be easy,” said Miles, “but it ain’t gonna be easy for them, either.”

NO. 14 BOISE STATE BRONCOS. The bustin’ Broncs had the weekend off in preparation for Wednesday night’s home game against a wretched Fresno State Bulldogs team … Last year, you could have circled this game on the calendar as being the one for all the chips in the WAC. It’s been that way for a few years now. Instead, Fresno comes into the contest shell-shocked beyond belief and relief, sporting a 1-6 record, the team’s worst start in nearly two decades. Relief could be spelled w-i-n for the Bulldogs, but they don’t stand a chance. They’re a sorry, beaten lot this year and BSU will use them for statistical fodder: FSU gives up 32.1 points per game and the Bulldogs don’t have an interception to their credit on the season. There isn’t much to gain (in terms of the BCS standings) with a win over a 1-6 team, but the Broncos have everything to lose with a letdown, and it won’t happen on that ugly blue turf they call home. Put on your sunglasses and depending on the type of lenses you have, the field will turn yellow or red … grooooovy.

NO. 15 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. Remember this name: Donald Brown II … making his first college start, the 5-9, 209-pound true freshman running back from Connecticut burned Rutgers for 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns on Sunday night … but remember this, also — after a 26-13 victory, Rutgers is still undefeated … moreover, you really can’t blame Greg Schiano’s players for asking “Hey, what about us?” … whoever wins Thursday’s West Virginia-Louisville game has already been anointed as the Big East champions, but both still have to play the Scarlet Knights, who proved on Sunday that they could win without a Heisman-caliber performance from RB Ray Rice (just 75 yards rushing) … “They stacked the box against me,” Rice said. “They did a great job” … it was really the Rutgers defense that made the difference, holding UConn to 67 passing yards … the Knights have this weekend off, then finish with four straight Big East games — home against Louisville, at Cincinnati, home against Syracuse, at West Virginia.

NO. 16 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. OK, the fans were wimps last Saturday (only about half of those purchasing tickets showed up for last Saturday’s Boston College-Buffalo game in a pouring rain and gusty winds) but not the Eagle players … backup QB Chris Crane stepped in for an injured Matt Ryan and threw for 142 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score, and freshman linebacker Mark Herzlich stood in for Jolo Dunlap and made 13 tackles … meanwhile, the visiting Bulls played as if the wind (which reached 55 mph at times) was in their face all game, finishing with minus-12 yards rushing and never venturing into Eagle territory until just 2:38 remained in regulation … Saturday night, the Eagles are at Wake Forest, and that’s no Bull … Ryan, the leading passer in the ACC, should be back, and BC still has a good shot at winning its division.

NO. 17 WISCONSIN BADGERS. The Badgers came through with flying colors against neighboring rival Illinois last week in their biggest test since losing their one and only to Michigan earlier in the season. The Fighting Illini piled up a 24-10 halftime lead behind the amazing frosh QB Juice Williams … Wisconsin would have none of that gamesmanship in the second half, though, as it outscored the Illini 20-0 for the win. Even if Wisconsin were to go 11-1 this year, it will be forced out of the BCS picture by Ohio State and Michigan … BCS rules set a limit of two teams per conference to participate in the big-money bowls. Freshman running back P.J. Hill seemed to have illustrated his value to the Badgers without doing much against the Illini. He left the game early with a sore neck and it forced Wisconsin to make some adjustments on offense that seemed uncomfortable, to say the least. Still, a win is a win, and Bucky Badger and his Badger Boys have two stiff Big Ten contests left to prove they are for real this year. Wisconsin hosts Penn State this weekend and plays Iowa on the road next week. Stay tuned to see if Madison’s finest are for real.

NO. 18 OKLAHOMA SOONERS. For some reason, a lot of football prognosticators picked Oklahoma to lose to Missouri last Saturday … what were they thinking? The Sooners went after freshman Mizzou QB Chase Daniel as if he were edible, harassing the talented rookie into three interceptions … they also recovered a fumble, blocked a punt, and took advantage of a roughing-the-kicker penalty … and in the end, Bob Stoops’ team had lent a little more sanity to the crazy Big 12 race with a 26-10 victory … with the loss of RB Adrian Peterson, the Sooners have gone from being a potentially great team to a very good one … but somebody must have been blocking on Saturday, because backup tailback Allen Patrick rumbled for 162 yards and QB Paul Thompson threw two touchdown passes … alas, trailing Texas by two games in the Big 12 South, the Sooners can forget about winning the division — even if Texas were to lose another game, it would trump OU as a head-to-head winner … moreover, Oklahoma finishes with Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

NO. 19 CLEMSON TIGERS. The Tigers’ loss to Virginia Tech last Thursday provided yet another example of how comparative scores are problematic at best … on Sept. 30, Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech 38-27 … last week, Clemson trounced the Yellow Jackets, 31-7 … bad news for the Hokies? Nope … … Tech’s Branden Ore rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns, the Hokie defense swarmed as of old, and Clemson — the flavor of the moment among college football pundits — went down, 24-7 … the Tiger running back duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, the same “Thunder and Lightning” pair that had lit up Georgia Tech, was reduced to a mere chance of showers by Virginia Tech’s fierce linebackers … then, too, a lot of it probably had to do with emotion … Tech was fired up after two straight ACC losses, Clemson may have been a little flat after the Georgia Tech triumph … another problem was the lackluster play of Clemson QB Will Proctor, who was just 11 of 28 for 86 yards … not even Thunder and Lightning can operate effectively when the other team knows they’re coming … the loss left Clemson at 4-2 in the conference, a game behind Atlantic Division co-leaders Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland … still, all is not lost … BC still has to face Wake, Maryland and Miami (the latter on the road); Maryland has Wake, Boston College and Clemson; and Wake plays Florida State, Virginia Tech and Maryland … of the leaders, in fact, the Tigers probably have the most winnable final three games — Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina — because all three are at home.

NO. 20 GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. Like a long-haul truck driver, the Georgia Tech football team has survived its toughest stretch of road and is now looking at a downhill run toward a berth in the ACC Championship Game … the biggest danger, at this point, is falling asleep … Tech finishes with what it hopes will be a triumphal march down Tobacco Road, closing its conference schedule with games against North Carolina State, North Carolina and Duke, before the traditional finale with Georgia … the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have yet to beat a Division I-A opponent, while the Wolfpack (described by one Georgia writer as the “Werewolfpack” because of their unpredictable nature) lost to Akron and Southern Miss but upset Boston College and Florida State … QB Reggie Ball has an interesting stat line for the Jackets, throwing for an impressive 1,234 yards despite completing less than half of his passes … his coaches programmed more roll-out plays for him in last week’s victory over Miami, and that seemed to buy Ball a little more time.

NO. 21 TEXAS A&M AGGIES. After beating Baylor last week, the Aggies are 8-1 for the first time since 1998. That’s the good news. The bad news awaits on the bottom quarter of the schedule — games with Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, three schools against which A&M coach Dennis Franchione is 0-7 … win all three, however, and A&M would be the Big 12 South Division champions … at this point, you could get pretty good odds at your local sports book on that probability … still, the Aggies have three solid running backs to fuel their option attack — Courtney Lewis, freshman Michael Goodson and 270-pound Jorvorskie Lane … and QB Stephen McGee won’t beat himself … so far this season, he’s throw just one interception in 204 pass attempts … hey, you never know.

NO. 22 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. OK, folks. Party’s over. After Wake Forest stumbled and bumbled its way to victory over the hapless Tar Heels (yes, North Carolina actually led 17-14 after three quarters) the Deacons have reached the highest summit of the AP poll they will see this year. They have beaten North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke all in the same season for the first time since 1987, and each game has come down to the wire. “This is something we’ve been building toward for a long time,” said Wake head coach Jim Grobe. “We’ve lost a lot of heartbreakers over the years, but we have a lot of seniors this year. I’m not sure that we’re doing it pretty, but we are getting it done.” We hate to break the news to the 7-1 Deacons, but their final four games are Boston College, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Maryland … just a wee bit tougher than the schedule they’ve faced so far this season.

NO. 23 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES. The Hokies proved that you can bounce right back into a poll position when you upset a ranked team on national television. Va. Tech looked like the Beamer model of old in last Thursday’s thoroughly dominating 24-7 conquest of Clemson. Brandon Ore lugged the pigskin for 203 yards and two TDs to pace the Hokies’ offensive attack. Defensively, Tech held the Tigers to 172 total yards, more than 200 below their average. The Hokies’ biggest game left on the schedule comes right away this week when they take on the Hurricanes in Miami. They’ve got payback on their minds from the 27-7 beatdown they suffered at home last year. You just know Virginia Tech is licking its chops over this game … a win could virtually assure that Larry Coker is shown the exit sign at the end of the year.

NO. 24 OREGON DUCKS. There’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned whoopin’ you can lay on a Division I-AA team to take away the sting of defeat from the week before against Wazzu. Portland State was the proverbial whipping post in this 55-12 Duck victory … it might have come at a big cost, though, as RB Jonathan Stewart injured an abdominal muscle after his second carry and left the game for good. A home game versus the drastically improved Washington Huskies is no cakewalk, and then the big night game in the Los Angeles Coliseum against USC the following week on Nov. 11 should pretty much dictate where the Ducks will end up come bowl season. Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf split QB chores against Portland State. Freshman QB Nathan Costa also managed to get some quality playing time, hitting on all three of his passing attempts for 50 yards in the air, while slugging twice on the ground for 14 more.

NO. 25 WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS. The Cougars could very well be on their way to a 9-3 record as they are flying high with back-to-back wins over Pac-10 upper-tier favorites Oregon and UCLA. Alex Brink threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns against the Bruins last week and Wazzu completely dominated the second half of play in Rose Bowl Stadium. The Cougars get Arizona and Washington at home with a road game to Arizona State sandwiched in between. Washington State’s biggest surprise this year is its defense … the unit is third in the Pac 10 in points allowed with 18.7, just one point more than conference leader USC. The Cougars’ always-dangerous passing attack is rated No. 1 in the Pac 10 in total yards and first downs.

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..