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Archive for November, 2007

AP Top 25 Weekly

Despite all the chatter we’ve heard this season about the Big Ten being the Big Disappointment, Ohio State is now in their fourth week holding down the top spot and Michigan has moved up a couple more notches to #13 in this week’s poll. The Buckeyes get #30 Illinois at home this week, prior to The Rivalry Game at Michigan on November 17.

Another #2 ranked team bit the dust last week as Florida State toppled Boston College in Boston. The convincing win put the Seminoles on the verge of breaking back into the AP Top 25, and sent BC packing down to #8 in the rankings. There was very little movement beyond that. The top gainers this week were a couple of ACC programs, Virginia (plus 6) and Clemson (plus 5). Biggest losers besides BC (minus 6) included South Carolina (minus 12) and Wisconsin (minus 6).

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (10-0). Chris Wells scored three second-half touchdowns to rally the Buckeyes over the Wisconsin Badgers 38-17. It was the first time Ohio State had beaten the Badgers in Columbus since 1996. They’ll take on the much improved #30 Illinois Fighting Illini at home this weekend and it won’t be an easy task. Illinois (6-3) knocked off both Penn State and Wisconsin earlier this year and have the nation’s fourth-ranked running back in the nation with Rashard Mendenhall (192 rushes, 1,314 yards, 14 TDs) who is poised to break a number of single season rushing records at Illinois. Don’t let anyone mislead you that Ohio State isn’t earning their #1 ranking.

NO. 2 LSU TIGERS (8-1). Not many 41-34 games could be termed a defensive struggle, but LSU’s D rose to the occasion repeatedly in last Saturday night’s “Saban Bowl,” holding Alabama to 30 yards rushing and sacking Tide QB John Parker Wilson six times (none, interestingly, from All-America DT Glen Dorsey). The final sack, by blitzing safety Chad Jones, stripped Wilson of the ball and set up Jacob Hester’s game-winning touchdown.

NO. 3 OREGON DUCKS (8-1). The Ducks got off to a fast start against previously undefeated Arizona State, and held on for a convincing 35-23 victory in front of a rabid SRO crowd at Autzen Stadium. The win puts them in the driver’s seat for the Pac-10 title and a possible BCS championship berth. QB Dennis Dixon turned in a solid performance, going 13 for 22, 189 yards and 4 TDs. Oregon gets a needed week of rest and will visit Tucson next Thursday to take on the much-improved Arizona Wildcats. That could be a very surprising game if the ‘Cats can come up with a defensive performance to match their explosive offense.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (8-1). The Sooners’ 42-14 drubbing of Texas A&M helped move Dennis Franchione one step closer to the door in College Station. Freshman QB Sam Bradford continues to shine in Norman … he was 21 of 30, and racked up 284 yards passing and 5 TDs in the win over the Aggies. He now has 25 TD passes and just 5 interceptions on the year. Oklahoma catches a break with Baylor coming to visit this weekend before two tough conference games to wind up the regular season.

NO. 5 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (9-0). By this point, you’d think that everyone would be jumping on the Jayhawks’ bandwagon, but there always seems to be another Big 12 game around the corner that looks like it could be the stumbling block that ends the cinderfella season. This week’s game at Oklahoma State is no exception. The Cowboys built a huge lead at home over Texas last week, only to watch it crumble in the final quarter. Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine that happening again this week with the upstart Jayhawks.

NO. 6 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (7-1). Thursday night’s matchup with Louisville in Morgantown has lost a lot of its luster — after all, Louisville is only 5-4 and 2-2 in Big East play. Still, Brian Brohm and his array of fleet receivers are always dangerous, and the Cardinals will be letting it all hang out with the pressure off. This will also be a key game in the Heisman race, which still involves Brohm as well as Mountaineers Pat White and Steve Slaton.

NO. 7 MISSOURI TIGERS (8-1). When was the last time you saw three Big 12 teams occupying three of the top seven spots in the AP poll? Enjoy it while it lasts, because Missouri and Kansas still have to square off at the end of the regular season, and then the winner of that game will face Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Translation: Only one of these three will be in the top 7 in less than a month. Did Mizzou take care of business in Boulder last week, or what? 55-10! TE Chase Coffman hauled in three of Chase Daniel’s five TD passes, giving him 19 TD receptions for his career and breaking the previous Tiger record held by Justin Gage. Coffman is “only” a junior, by the way. Next up: The Tigers hope to demonstrate for Texas A&M why Missouri is called the “Show Me State” this Saturday.

NO. 8 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (8-1). Did anybody really think Boston College would finish the season undefeated? Now, after a 27-17 loss to Florida State last Saturday, the Eagles may need to beat Clemson in Death Valley on Nov. 24 to earn the ACC’s East Division regular-season title. BC QB Matt Ryan played well, as always, throwing for over 400 yards. The dagger, though, was Geno Hayes’ 38-yard interception return touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.

NO. 9 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (8-1). Okay, Sun Devil fans. Take a deep breath. This season is still BCS-worthy, if you win out. Put that disappointing loss to Oregon in the books and take each game, week by week. UCLA, USC and arch rival Arizona (looking surprisingly better with each week) are a tall order to fill, but it can be done. Take care of business against the Bruins this Saturday and then you’ve got a bye week to give you some extra time to figure out how to exploit USC’s vulnerabilities.

NO. 10 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (7-2). The good news around Athens is that senior tailback Thomas Brown may be back to spell red-hot freshman Knowshon Moreno against No. 18 Auburn, This is a key game for both teams — having lost to LSU already, Auburn can’t afford to give up any more ground in the SEC West. The Bulldogs are in a similar situation, needing to put some distance between themselves and Tennessee in the East because of a loss to the Vols earlier this season.

NO. 11 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (7-2). Frank Beamer’s Hokies, who thumped Georgia Tech last Thursday, still have to play Florida State, Miami and Virginia. Those first two games are at home, however, and a split would probably leave the traditional season finale between UVa and Tech to decide the ACC East. QB Sean Glennon has played well of late after earlier losing his job to freshman Tyrod Taylor, but TE Sam Wheeler — one of his favorite targets — was declared lost for the rest of the reason this week with a torn ACL.

NO. 12 USC TROJANS (7-2). Southern Cal got back on track with a dominating 24-3 win over Oregon State last weekend. Credit the defense for the near shut-out, as they registered 9 sacks and held the Beavers to just 176 total yards of offense. It was a sweet payback for the upset defeat they suffered in Corvallis last year. The Trojans are on the road to Berkeley this week for a match-up that most of us felt would determine the Pac-10 championship this year. Not. It will be a great game, though. Look for Cal to pull off the upset if USC doesn’t execute at the highest level Saturday night.

NO. 13 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (8-2). Michigan’s miracle comeback this season continued in East Lansing last weekend … Down 10 points midway thru the fourth quarter, the Wolverines stormed back to score two touchdowns, the game winner coming on a 31-yard TD pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham with 2:28 on the clock. The Maize and Blue have one more obstacle in their path before the annual Rivalry Game with Ohio State, and they cannot afford to look beyond this week’s foe, Wisconsin. The last time the Wolverines visited the Badgers’ lair in Madison (2005), they left with a heartbreaking loss.

NO. 14 HAWAII WARRIORS (8-0). The Warriors played against Bye last week, which is about the same level of competition they’ve been facing this year, anyway. But now, beginning with this weekend’s clash against visiting Fresno State, the quality level of opponents will step up a notch. The Bulldogs have won two of the last three contests with Hawaii, including their last visit to the islands in 2005. Still, it would be a stretch for FSU to pull off the upset this year.

NO. 15 TEXAS LONGHORNS (8-2). The Longhorns have struggled with Oklahoma State four times in the past five years, only to pull out the comeback win in the final minutes. It’s gotta be frustrating as all get-out to the Cowboy fans. Last weekend, Texas was behind 35-14 heading into the final fifteen minutes of play. Led by RB Jamaal Charles (16 carries, 180 yards, 3 TDs) the Longhorns rallied and won 38-35 on Ryan Bailey’s 40-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. This week, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech visit Austin with their traveling air show. Bombs away.

NO. 16 CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (8-1). There were even some Sugar Bowl scouts watching UConn’s workmanlike demolition of Rutgers last weekend, and a trip to New Orleans isn’t out of the question. At the end of the regular season, however, stands a road trip to Morgantown — and the Huskies had best beware of 7-2 Cincinnati on the road this weekend.

NO. 17 FLORIDA GATORS (6-3). It isn’t often that you’ll hear coaches telling a wide receiver or a tailback to stop running so fast, but that was the case with former high school track-star Percy Harvin. The Florida sophomore flash was so quick that he was outrunning his blockers and his cutback lanes, so the Gator coaches took him aside and got him to slow down. Apparently, it worked — in last Saturday’s 49-22 victory over Vanderbilt, Harvin went over 100 yards in both rushing and receiving, averaging 10.3 yards a carry.

NO. 18 AUBURN TIGERS (7-3). The Tigers simply have to win at Georgia this week, or they can kiss even their faint SEC West title hopes goodbye. This is the oldest rivalry in the South, 111 games worth, and Auburn holds an 18-9 edge at Sanford Stadium. Tommy Tuberville’s team also remembers being trounced by the Bulldogs at home in 2006.

NO. 19 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (8-1). 42-7 over San Jose State last week. Yawn. On the road to 0-9 Utah State this Saturday. Triple yawn. Roll up the stats, boys … Hey, it doesn’t get any better next week when 1-9 Idaho visits. More yawns. We’ll wake you up when BSU heads to the islands to play Hawaii on Friday, November 23. That will be a game worth watching.

NO. 20 CLEMSON TIGERS (7-2). The third group of Tigers in the top 20, Clemson feasted on Duke last Saturday and is only a leap behind Boston College in the ACC East. This week, it’s Wake Forest, where the 2006 magic has apparently departed.

NO. 21 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (6-3). Nick Saban’s latest team could have climbed into the drivers’ seat in the SEC West by beating LSU at home last Saturday, and the Tide almost pulled it off. Now, though, Saban is looking at a classic “trap” game — an emotionally letdown squad on the road at Mississippi State, which has been downright feisty in the second half of the season.

NO. 22 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (6-3). The Vols unleashed their running games to overwhelm Louisiana Lafayette, 59-3, last Saturday. Nevertheless, the key to beating Arkansas this week will still be QB Erik Ainge — and whether a UT defense that has been weak against the run can hold down Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

NO. 23 VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (8-2). Cavalier Nation was all set to run Al Groh out of town after a season-opening loss to Wyoming, but the Cavs have since rebounded to win eight games, three of them by a point and two more by two points. Can they keep it going against Miami and Virginia Tech? Skeptics have learned not to bet against a stout defense led by DE Chris Long (Howie’s kid).

TIE – NO. 24 KENTUCKY WILDCATS. (6-3). The season is beginning to be a grind for Rich Brooks’ Wildcats, who were on top of the world us a few short weeks ago after upsetting LSU but have now lost two straight. UK won’t return to its Old Kentucky Home until Nov. 24 (vs. Tennessee), with away games at Vanderbilt and Georgia in between.

TIE – NO. 24 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (6-3). Cal will not defeat USC this week if they play like they did last Saturday in their 20-17 squeaker over Washington State. With three conference losses on the books, the Bears are fighting to regain respect and a better bowl berth. A win over the Trojans will go a long way toward making both of those objectives their reality.

ON THE BUBBLE: Florida State, Cincinnati, Brigham Young, Penn State, Illinois, Arkansas, Wisconsin, South Florida, Wake Forest, South Carolina.

BYU Tops TCU in MWC Action

Several storylines unfolded in Provo, Utah Thursday night where BYU defeated TCU in a key MWC contest, 27-22.

Storyline #1. The Cougars offensive line turned in one of their finest performances of the season, yielding only one quarterback sack to TCU’s acclaimed defensive ends Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake. BYU quarterback Max Hall had enough time throughout much of the game to post solid numbers (26 for 44, 305 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).

Brigham Young’s O-line got stronger as the game progressed and by the second half, Cougar running backs Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga began blasting through holes that were difficult to find earlier in the game. Unga rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries, and scored twice. Tonga added another 17 yards on 5 carries, and Hall contributed 28 yards on 5 scrambles.

Storyline #2. Third down conversion success. 13 for 20, to be exact.. BYU’s ability to make the big plays when they needed to keep their drives going led to a six-minute advantage in possession and 405 total yards in offense over a Horned Frogs defense that was averaging a per game yield of just 176 total yards.

Storyline #3. Minimal penalties.. Only 30 yards penalized on 4 flags–a whopping improvement from earlier this season. The only time the Cougars really hurt themselves in this category was a holding call that negated a perfectly executed Hall to Pitta touchdown pass in the second quarter. BYU settled for a field goal on the possession and lost 4 points because of the penalty.

Storyline #4. Quick start. Brigham Young scored on their first possession and never trailed the Horned Frogs in the game. They held a 17-9 advantage at the half, and drew first blood in the second half on a Kelly Poppinga interception that led to a 3-yard touchdown scamper by Harvey Unga. That turnover and score proved to be the real dagger in TCU’s gut, giving BYU a 24-9 lead with just a minute gone on the second half clock.

Storyline #5. Clutch plays. The Cougars constantly came up with big plays to keep drives going and stifled the Horned Frogs when they needed a clutch play the most. Max Hall scrambled 22 yards for a first down during BYU’s first possession of the game deep in TCU territory. That led to a Harvey Unga 15-yard touchdown jaunt on the next play.

On another third down situation in the first half, Hall scrambled and found Austin Collie open for a 66-yard gain. That play led to a Hall to Joe Semanoff touchdown pass two plays later.

Dennis Pitta and Matt Allen both made incredible acrobatic, tiptoe-on-the-sideline receptions on third down conversion attempts to keep key drives going for the Cougars.

BYU’s defense stopped TCU on all three of their fourth down conversion attempts in the second half, and as mentioned previously, Poppinga’s interception squelched the Horned Frog’s first possession of the second half and led to a Cougar touchdown on the next play.

David Nixon’s QB sack on TCU’s final drive was a back-breaker for the Frogs.

Mitch Payne’s two field goals proved to be the winning margin.

The victory keeps BYU’s record perfect in the Mountain West Conference at 5-0 (7-2 overall) and extends their conference winning streak to thirteen. The Cougars next game is at Wyoming on November 17.

NU Win Thriller Over Indy

The Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Indiana Hoosiers, 31-28, in a thrilling Big Ten Conference contest today in Evanston. The win was the sixth of the season for the Wildcats and made them bowl eligible. Indiana became bowl eligible last week.

Down 28-24 with 44 seconds remaining in the game, Northwestern scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard pass from C.J. Bacher to Ross Lane. Running back Tyrell Sutton paced the Wildcats with 138 yards and a score on 33 carries. Both teams are now 6-5 overall, but Northwestern is 3-4 in Big Ten play, while the Hoosiers are 2-5.

Commentary: With the exception of Minnesota, the Big Ten Conference hasn’t been this balanced since the first half of the 1990s when five different schools won the conference championship. Four teams actually tied in 1990 (Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan with Iowa going to the Rose Bowl Game). Michigan won in 1991 and 1992, but Wisconsin won in 1993 (tie-breaker over Ohio State), Penn State won in 1994, Northwestern won in 1995, and Ohio State tied with Northwestern in 1996. Credit Pat Fitzgerald with rebuilding the Wildcats into a bowl-eligible team, as well as Bill Lynch for the job he has done taking over the Hoosier program following Terry Hoeppner’s death.

Air Force Whips Notre Dame

The Air Force Academy Falcons handed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish their record ninth loss of the season today in South Bend, 41-24.

It was the first time since 1944 that two service academy teams had defeated the Irish in the same season, and it was also the largest margin of victory for a service academy since 1963.

The Falcons were paced by the 1-2 duo of QB Shaun Carney (10-16, 120 yards, 2 TDs thru the air, and 41 yards, 1 TD in 9 carries on the ground) and RB Chad Hall (142 yards off 32 carries on the ground and 31 yards on 2 pass receptions). Air Force had 407 total yards on offense, while Notre Dame had 305 yards.

Commentary: Even though Charlie Weis’ job is secure at Notre Dame for at least another year, the Irish faithful are going to have a difficult time ever forgiving him for this utterly humiliating season. At 1-9, the best the Irish can finish this year is 3-9, with seemingly winnable games with Duke and Stanford remaining on the schedule.

Badgers Chew Up Wolverines

The Wisconsin Badgers defended their home turf against the Michigan Wolverines, 37-21, in Big Ten action today.

Playing without the services of RB Mike Hart, the Wolverines struggled from the start of the game in Madison. Things only got worse when senior QB Chad Henne was injured and left the game in the first quarter. Ryan Mallett, his back-up, was 11 of 36, good for 245 yards and 3 TDs, but he also tossed two costly interceptions. Clearly Michigan missed Hart, as they were held to a total 48 net yards on the ground.

Tyler Donovan was 14 of 27, 245 yards and 1 TD for Wisconsin thru the air, and he added another 49 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries to lead the Badgers. RB Zach Brown ably filled in for injured P.J. Hill, logging 128 yards and 2 TDs on 27 attempts.

Commentary: Michigan’s 8-game winning streak came to an end, and the Wolverines lost much needed momentum heading into their annual rivalry game with Ohio State next week. Questions about Lloyd Carr’s future will now resurface and fill the sports radio air time in Michigan this week. The Rose Bowl officials will be rooting for Ohio State to win at Michigan win on November 17 because a Wolverine victory would send a 9-3 Big Ten co-champion ranked lower than the top 15 to the Rose Bowl Game on January 1.

Illini Stun Buckeyes in Columbus

#30 ranked Illinois knocked off #1 Ohio State and most likely ended any Buckeye BCS title game hopes with a shocking 28-21 victory over the 15-point favorites at Ohio Stadium in Columbus today.

Illini sophomore quarterback Juice Williams tossed four scoring strikes in the win to move Illinois to 8-3 overall (5-2 in Big Ten). His counterpart, Todd Boeckman, was 13 of 23 for 155 yards, with two costly interceptions. The win was the Fighting Illini’s third in their last four visits to Columbus since 1999, but the first time in school history that they had ever defeated a top-ranked team.

Commentary: Ron Zook is the real deal and has turned around the Illinois program in just three seasons at the helm. He was 4-19 in his first two seasons (2-9 in 2005 and 2-10 in 2006) but has the Illini on track for one of the Big Ten’s plum bowl game slots with Northwestern coming to Champaign-Urbana on November 17. Stocked with lots of young talent, Illinois will have to be considered one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title in 2008.