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Archive for November, 2007

Sun Devils Hold Off UCLA, 24-20

The Arizona State Sun Devils have made a habit of starting out slowly in nearly every game they’ve played this year. Today’s game against the UCLA Bruins wasn’t any different.

The Bruins jumped off to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter of play, holding ASU to 31 total yards and forcing punts on all three Sun Devil possessions. UCLA’s offense was nearly as sluggish as ASU, registering just 61 total yards; their lone touchdown of the quarter was set up by Terrence Austin’s 68-yard punt return at the 5:42 mark.

The Sun Devils finally hit the scoreboard with a Rudy Carpenter to Kyle Williams 3-yard toss midway thru the second quarter. UCLA’s Kai Forbath banged in a 42-yard field goal–his second of the game–with just over two minutes remaining in the half. ASU responded with a 53-yard field goal with no time on the clock, made possible by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on the Bruins.

The momentum of the game was noticeably shifting, even though the scoreboard read 13-10 in UCLA’s favor at the half.

Aside from their loss to Oregon last week, Arizona State has owned the third quarter in each of their games this season. The Bruins learned that today as Arizona State scored twice in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to take the lead for good, 24-10. ASU’s first score came on a Dmitri Nance 11-yard zig-zag touchdown run, and then Keegan Herring ripped off a 71-yard score on their very next possession.

UCLA counterpunched on the ensuing kickoff when Matthew Slater went 89 yards for the score. It was Slater’s third kickoff return for a touchdown this season, which set a new UCLA team record and tied USC’s Anthony Davis for the Pac-10 record. It was also the final points scored in the game.

The fourth quarter was scoreless with the Bruins and Sun Devils swapping failed drives. With 41 seconds remaining, K/P Thomas Weber buried UCLA at their own 3-yard line with a perfectly executed, coffin-corner punt.

Bruin QB Osaar Rashaan moved his team out to their 31-yard line with seven seconds remaining. UCLA’s last gasp attempt to win the game came as Rashaan scrambled for a 23-yard gain before passing the ball across the field as a lateral to offensive lineman Shannon Tevaga. Tevaga rambled for another 14 yards before tossing the ball up for grabs in an illegal forward pass that ended the play, the game, and quite possibly, Karl Dorrell’s career at UCLA.

Standout performances for the Sun Devils were turned in by Keegan Herring, who rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries, including the 71-yard touchdown run, and Chris McGaha, who hauled in 9 passes good for 123 yards. UCLA was led by kicker Kai Forbath, who was perfect on two field goal and two PAT attempts, and Matthew Slater with his 89-yard TD kickoff return. The Bruins sacked Rudy Carpenter five times and backup QB Danny Sullivan once, with safety Chris Horton logging three of the sacks.

Both starting quarterbacks turned in marginal performances: Carpenter was 16 of 32, 201 yards, 1 TD, and zero INTs. Rashaan was 14 of 28, 178 yards, and his one interception killed the last serious fourth quarter drive by the Bruins with 4:20 left in the game.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

Ohio State surrendered their one month reign on top of college football and the next six ranked teams each eagerly nudged upward a notch, with LSU reclaiming the pinnacle position. The Buckeyes tumbled six slots to #7. Boston College coulda and shoulda been numero uno, but two consecutive losses have bounced the former #2 all the way down to #18. Biggest gainers this week were Illinois (plus 10) and Virginia (plus 7). Besides BC, the biggest losers were Michigan (minus 10) and Connecticut (minus 9).

NO. 1 LSU TIGERS (9-1). By the time they took the field last Saturday night against Louisiana Tech, Les Miles’ Tigers already knew that Ohio State had lost and the No. 1 ranking was low-hanging fruit. They also knew that it wouldn’t hurt to pile some points on the outmanned Bulldogs to ensue not being passed by Oregon and Kansas. Mission accomplished: The final, 58-10. As an added side benefit, LSU also clinched the SEC West, since both Auburn and Alabama obligingly lost.

NO. 2 OREGON DUCKS (8-1). Nobody had it easier than the Ducks last week as they enjoyed a bye, healed their feathers, and moved up to the championship level in every poll. Now they just have to survive a much improved and hungry Arizona Wildcat team on the road on Thursday night. Can they beat the jinx that has been plaguing several other teams that occupied the heir apparent slot? We think they just might not … Tucson is known for some wild west shootouts, and there seems to be an upset brewing down there this week.

NO. 3 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (9-1). The Okies buried Baylor 52-21 and will try to keep Texas Tech from laying that many on them this week in Lubbock. The Sooners’ September 29 loss to Colorado is looking pretty stupid after the Buffaloes dropped their last contest to Iowa State and fell to 5-6. Four more points in that game and Oklahoma would be the top dog in the country right now. Not to worry. With freshmen like DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford, the Sooners should be a regular fixture in the national title picture for the next several years … it might even happen this year. Next up after TT is Oklahoma State.

NO. 4 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (10-0). The Jayhawks are just one of two undefeated teams remaining in the land and with three games remaining, they control their own destiny regarding a shot at the national title game. They destroyed the Cowboys of Oklahoma State last week, 45-28, and should get a bit of a breather of sorts this week with Iowa State visiting Lawrence. The Cyclones can’t be taken as pushovers, though. Just ask Colorado. After Iowa State, the highly anticipated contest with #6 Missouri looms larger with every passing moment.

NO. 5 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (8-1). Despite their mid-season stumble against South Florida, the Mountaineers aren’t out of the BCS championship game yet. Of the teams between them and No. 1, No. 2 Oregon has three games remaining and a Pac-10 bullseye on its back, No. 3 Kansas still has to play No. 6 Missouri and No. 4 Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech this Saturday, where anything can happen. Then there’s the Arkansas-LSU game — any team with Darren McFadden on it has to be considered dangerous. Meanwhile, West Virginia keeps mowing down the other contenders for a Big East title — Rutgers two weeks ago and Louisville last Thursday, with Cincinnati this week, then Connecticut, then Pitt for dessert.

NO. 6 MISSOURI TIGERS (9-1). Another sterling performance by QB Chase Daniel and the Tigers last week over Texas A&M, and Mizzou is now one step closer to their showdown with Big 12 North Division leader Kansas on November 24. Daniel was 27 of 35, for 352 yards and 3 TDs in the 40-26 win over the Aggies. They’ll try to tune up for the Kansas game this week by taking on the Jayhawks’ instate rival, Kansas State.

NO. 7 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (10-1). The Buckeyes lost to Illinois at home for the third time in their last four meetings. The Illini are the only team in the Big Ten or the nation that has OSU’s number at the Horseshoe. Jim Tressel has his work cut out for him trying to get his boys’ mindset back on track for the Rivalry Game this week in Ann Arbor. There won’t be a group wishing for a Buckeye victory any more than the Rose Bowl Game folks, who cringe at the thought of getting stuck with current #23 Michigan, already a 3-time loser this year.

NO. 8 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (8-2). The Bulldogs’ recent surge (over 40 points against Florida, Troy and Auburn), has been impressive, but the Bulldogs’ hopes of winning the SEC East still depend on either Vanderbilt or Kentucky knocking off Tennessee. The Bulldogs and Volunteers have two losses apiece, and Tennessee beat Georgia earlier this season. The Bulldogs host Kentucky this Saturday, then become huge Kentucky fans the week after, when the Wildcats face UT.

NO. 9 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (9-1). The Sun Devils dodged a bullet in Pasadena last week and still have a realistic chance of returning there on New Years’ Day, if they can win out. ASU held on to win 24-20 over an obviously confused and weakened UCLA squad, and now get a week off to prepare some new schemes that might help them trip up USC on Thanksgiving Day. Forget about the NFL games … ASU’s contest with USC will be the best football on TV on Turkey Day.

NO. 10 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (8-2). The Hokies slayed one of their dragons last Saturday, beating Florida State for the first time in the last 18 meetings. Victories over Miami and ancient-rival Virginia in the final two games would give Tech the ACC’s Atlantic Coast title and a leg up on a sweet bowl. QB Tyrod Taylor played brilliantly in relief of Sean Glennon, bedeviling the Seminoles with both his legs and his arm.

NO. 11 USC TROJANS (8-2). The Boys of Troy passed another serious Pac-10 exam last week with a hard-fought win over California in the rain. Still, if you saw the game, it seemed like Cal lost the game more than the Trojans won it. The bright spot for Pete Carroll was the emergence of Chauncey Washington as his go-to guy in the backfield. Washington ripped loose for 220 yards and a score on 29 carries in Berkeley. USC now gets a week off to try and figure out how to escape Tempe with a similar outcome next Thursday.

NO. 12 TEXAS LONGHORNS (9-2). Quite frankly, the Longhorns are the most unimpressive team in the top 12 slots of this week’s AP poll. Their 59-43 shootout victory over Texas Tech last week notwithstanding, UT struggled mightily with Nebraska three weeks ago, and then had to come from behind to knock off Oklahoma State. We think they might just get hosed and exposed next Friday in their road contest with arch-rival Texas A&M. They’ll get this Saturday off to think about how sloppy they have looked the past few weeks.

NO. 13 HAWAII WARRIORS (9-0). Two things stick out in one’s mind from last week’s narrow 37-30 win over Fresno State. Dang, these guys are lucky to survive a Bulldog team that clearly dominated the second half, and dang, Colt Brennan is lucky to survive that YouTube replay worthy hit delivered by Fresno State linebacker Marcus Riley. The Warriors will make their final trip to the mainland this season (unless, of course, they win and go on to qualify for a BCS bowl game) when they visit Reno to take on the 5-4 Wolf Pack this Friday night.

NO. 14. FLORIDA GATORS (6-3). Florida can still win a national championship — the Heisman Trophy, for sophomore QB Tim Tebow. Tebow ran for five touchdowns in a 51-21 demolition of South Carolina last week, and faces relatively weak opposition the final two games in Florida Atlantic and Florida State.

NO. 15 CLEMSON TIGERS (8-2). Saturday night’s game with Boston College in Death Valley is huge for the Tigers, who could virtually clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division with a victory. Except for a sloppy two-game stretch midway through the season that resulted in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, the Tigers have looked ferocious.

NO. 16 VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (9-2). Al Groh’s Cavaliers have a week to savor their 48-0 demolition of Miami — in the Orange Bowl, no less — and prepare for a Nov. 24 meeting with Virginia Tech, quite possibly the biggest game in the Commonwealth this century.

NO. 17 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (9-1). Like we said last week, the Utah State game would be a yawner. What? You don’t think 52-0 is a yawner? Well, there’s another snoozer coming up on the Broncs’ schedule this week. Yessirree, it’s the vaunted 1-9 Idaho Vandals.

NO. 18 BOSTON COLLEGE (8-2). Let’s see — the Eagles have slid down the rankings with consecutive losses to Florida State and Maryland, so they can’t win a national championship, and QB Matt Ryan’s Heisman hopes have also faded. So what’s left? How about an ACC championship, which BC can still accomplish if the Eagles beat Clemson on the road Saturday?

NO. 19 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (7-3). The schizophrenic Volunteers can go undefeated at home by beating Vanderbilt on Saturday, then clinch an SEC East title with a victory over Kentucky. Maybe that would be enough to keep the wolves away from Philip Fulmer’s door.

NO. 20 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (8-3). Remember the name Juice Williams. The sophomore QB will be appearing in plenty more highlight reels on ESPN for the next couple years. He’s the real deal and the Illini are definitely making an unequivocal statement that they will be top contenders for the Big Ten title next year. Their convincing 28-21 win over Ohio State in Columbus is proof positive. Northwestern will visit Champaign-Urbana this week for the season closer. It’s always a tough game because of the rivalry factor. A trip to Florida and the Capital One Bowl will be at stake for the Illini.

NO. 21 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (8-2). The Bearcats have been helping out West Virginia by knocking off the Mountaineers’ chief rivals — South Florida and Connecticut in the past two weeks. Now, they are hoping to detail West Virginia’s bowl express in their home stadium. Could be interesting.

NO. 22 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (7-3). Kentucky could still make the SEC East race interesting, but it probably can’t win. Even if Rich Brooks’ team beats Georgia and Tennessee on consecutive weeks, Florida stands to win out and would use its earlier victory over UK to claim the title and a rematch with LSU.

NO. 23 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (8-3). At the beginning of the season, most experts pointed to Michigan’s November 10 contest at Wisconsin as the key game that would determine the Big Ten championship. Well, it didn’t quite come off that way. The Badgers’ 37-21 win came over an already tainted 2-loss Wolverine team that had to play without RB Mike Hart and QB Chad Henne. Michigan will host arch rival Ohio State this weekend in what could be Coach Lloyd Carr’s last game at Michigan Stadium. Once again, the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl Game will be at stake.

NO. 24 WISCONSIN BADGERS (8-3). The Badgers took care of business last week with Michigan and can wrap up a stellar season with a victory over conference doormat Minnesota this Saturday. A victory will put the Badgers in either the Outback Bowl or the Alamo Bowl.

NO. 25. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (8-2). It was fun while it lasted, and it should last a week longer when the Huskies face hapless Syracuse. After that, West Virginia awaits. But there will still be a bowl.

ON THE BUBBLE: Penn State, Auburn, Brigham Young, South Florida, California, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Air Force, Alabama.

Fourth and inches …

Arizona’s upset victory over Oregon Thursday night cleared the path for Kansas to move up in the rankings and lock in a national title game berth, if they can just manage to win out …

Actually, Kansas was set to pass Oregon by the end of the season with the extra points they would pick up for wins over two top 10 teams (Missouri and Oklahoma). However, if you’re a gambler, the safe bet is still on Oklahoma or West Virginia to be playing in New Orleans on January 8.

► A twist of irony to Arizona’s victory … The Wildcats served up the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl Game berth to their arch rivals Arizona State … now, all the Sun Devils need to do is take care of business with USC on Thanksgiving Day, and then knock off the hand that just fed them the following week.

Should ASU make it to the Rose Bowl Game, they could very likely find themselves pitted against Ohio State in a rematch from 11 years ago when Jake the Snake Plummer was outdueled by Joe Germaine and the Buckeyes in a thrilling last-minute finish.

► Michigan’s loss to Wisconsin could really tarnish the Rose Bowl Game this year if the Wolverines go on to defeat Ohio State this Saturday in Ann Arbor. Michigan dropped to #23 this week in the AP rankings. A win over Ohio State would give Michigan the Big Ten title and the automatic berth in the Rose Bowl Game, however, they would be 9-3 and probably ranked no higher than #15.

Traditionally, the Rose Bowl officials always desire a Big Ten champion versus Pac-10 champion match-up in the Rose Bowl Game, and normally, they wouldn’t care if it was Michigan or Ohio State. It’s just that a 10-2 Wolverine team on a 10-game winning streak and ranked in the top 10 is a far cry from what they will end up with now if the Maize and Blue successfully defend their home turf against the Buckeyes. You can’t blame them for wanting Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t been to Pasadena in ten years, and with a win over Michigan, they’d be 11-1 and ranked in the Top 5.

► Illinois proves the balance of power is shifting in the Big Ten. Illinois’ shocking victory over Ohio State was accomplished with a more youthful roster of talent, led by sophomore-sensation QB Juice Williams. Ron Zook is a remarkable recruiter and the Fighting Illini will be a force to reckon in the conference for the foreseeable future. Pat Fitzgerald is doing a number with Northwestern’s program, and Bill Lynch seems to be keeping Terry Hoeppner’s vision on track at Indiana University. Now, if Minnesota could just turn their program around …

► Locker or Brennan: which QB took the bigger hit? Washington’s Jake Locker and Hawaii’s Colt Brennan both sustained monster hits when they tucked the rock and headed up field in their respective games last Saturday. Arguably, Brennan took the meaner of the two hits. He left the game midway thru the third quarter of the Warriors’ game against the Fresno State Bulldogs and didn’t return, although he was able to wobble off the field with the aid of Hawaii’s medical staff.

The Warriors travel to Reno to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack this Friday. “I’ll be out there and ready to play,” said Brennan. Meanwhile, clips of Marcus Riley’s big hit on Brennan have become rather popular on YouTube.com … key words: Brennan and Fresno.

Locker sustained his injury in the first half of the Huskies’ contest against the Oregon State Beavers. He lay motionless on the ground for several minutes and was ultimately placed on a secure stretcher to protect his back and neck from movement. An ambulance transported him from the field to a local hospital. Fortunately, reports are that he suffered a neck stinger and strained muscles, but nothing worse. He could possibly be out for the rest of the regular season schedule.

►Heisman top 5 … Pat White (West Virginia) and Darren McFadden (Arkansas) have re-established their claims to this illustrious award … Andre Woodson (Kentucky) is still in the running, as is Dennis Dixon (Oregon) and Chase Daniel (Missouri). Dropouts include Mike Hart (Michigan) because of lingering injuries, and Matt Ryan (Boston College).

►Best Games of the Week …

Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Wolverines: Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth is on the line, not to mention bragging rights for the next year.
Kentucky Wildcats at Georgia Bulldogs: The Wildcats would like to play the spoiler and enhance their chances for a prestigious tier 2 bowl game with a win over another top 10 ranked team.
BYU Cougars at Wyoming Cowboys: Brigham Young can clinch a share of MWC title with the win. The Cowpokes can bandage their season by preventing that from happening. Wyoming is 4-1 at home this year. Unfortunately, an audience of about 10 will see this game, thanks to “the Mtn.” channel’s microscopic footprint.
Vanderbilt Commodores at Tennessee Volunteers: Big rivalry in the state with potential repercussions in the SEC North Division.
Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Just to find out the answer to one question … “Can this season get any worse for Charlie Weis?”
New Mexico Lobos at Utah Utes: Utes are on a roll and trying desperately to challenge for the MWC crown. Lobos need the win to secure bowl consideration.
Oklahoma Sooners at Texas Tech Red Raiders: No lead is ever safe when Tech has the ball. Come to think of it, no lead Tech has is ever safe, either. Will the Sooners be the next to fall victim to the curse of #2?
Boston College Eagles at Clemson Tigers: The winner will play in the ACC title game.
West Virginia Mountaineers at Cincinnati Bearcats: Crucial game that will help decide the outcome of the Big East and WV’s BCS title hopes.

►Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (2-2, season 18-17) …

Arizona Wildcats over #2 Oregon Ducks: already predicted this in the AP Top 25 weekly review.
Nevada Wolf Pack over #13 Hawaii Warriors: Hawaii doesn’t play well away from the islands and that freshman QB for Nevada is a clone of Vince Young when he’s on his game.
Texas Tech Red Raiders over #3 Oklahoma Sooners: Because #2 just isn’t safe this year. Plus, it’s in Lubbock.
Cincinnati Bearcats over #5 West Virginia Mountaineers: Cincy is tough at home, but arguably, this is the riskiest call.

Quacks Quash Arizona’s BCS Hopes

Dennis Dixon ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run two minutes into Oregon’s game against Arizona in Tucson, but six minutes later he left the gridiron with a knee injury and the Ducks were never the same. Without Dixon at the helm, the Wildcats mounted a 31-14 halftime lead.

Oregon fought valiantly throughout the second half to get back in the game, pulling as close as seven points (24-31) with 8:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Arizona responded with a 41-yard drive capped by a 46-yard field goal off the foot of Jason Bondzio on their next possession to certify the final score 34-24.

Brady Leaf went 22 of 46 for 162 yards and 2 interceptions in a back-up effort after Dixon went down with his knee injury. Jonathan Stewart carried the ball 28 times and picked up 132 yards on the ground for the Ducks in the losing effort.

Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason led the Wildcats with two huge second quarter touchdowns that broke the game open. The first TD came on a 42-yard interception return, and the second on a 56-yard punt return.

Commentary: Dixon’s worth to the Ducks was proven in his absence from the game. Count him as a valid Heisman candidate if he manages to make it back for Oregon’s final two games of the regular season. Ironically, Arizona’s win over Oregon puts their arch-rival Arizona State in the driver’s seat to play in the Rose Bowl Game on January 1. That will happen if ASU can prevail over USC and Arizona in their final two games.

BYU Dominates Wyoming, 35-10

Brigham Young knocked off Mountain West Conference foe Wyoming, 35-10, in Laramie today.

The Cougars were led by first year players, sophomore QB Max Hall and redshirt freshman RB Harvey Unga. Hall was 26 for 37, 331 yards, and 3 TDs, while Unga gained 110 yards and scored twice in the win. Unga’s 100-yard game was his fifth of the season and set a MWC record for freshmen running backs.

The Cougars did not turn over the ball or give up a sack for the first time this season. They also held Wyoming’s rushing offense to 9 net yards.

Commentary: BYU gained a share of the MWC title for the third year in a row under head coach Bronco Mendenhall in his first three years They won the title outright last year, and need to beat either Utah or San Diego State during the next two weeks to claim the crown again for themselves. The Cowboys fell to 5-6 on the season and will need to beat arch rival Colorado State next week to become bowl eligible. It’s a far cry from their season opener when they smashed current #16 ranked Virginia, 23-3.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

LSU decided they liked being the top dog and managed to hang in there for another week. Oregon lost Heisman candidate Dennis Dixon for the season, as well as their game with Arizona and a shot at the national title. Oklahoma was anointed by several media for the championship bout with LSU, but they promptly got whacked by Texas Tech in Lubbock last week. Count them out of the title picture.

The week’s biggest gainers were Kansas (plus 2) because they have complete control over their own destiny now, and Brigham Young (plus 5) making their first appearance in the poll this season. Biggest losers include Oregon and Oklahoma (both minus 7) and Clemson (minus 6).

NO. 1 LSU TIGERS (10-1). Les Miles must be very angry at Lloyd Carr about now. The best thing, from Miles’ point of view, would have been if Carr waited until after his team’s bowl game to announce his resignation as Michigan head coach. That way, former Wolverine and possible heir apparent Miles wouldn’t have to fend off distracting questions about his future as he tries to guide his Tigers over the final two hurdles (Arkansas this week; Tennessee, probably, in the SEC title game) between them and a berth in the BCS title game. Beware the Hogs, as well — any team with Darren McFadden running the ball has to be considered dangerous, and much-maligned Razorback QB Casey Dick actually threw four touchdown passes last week. Plus, coach Houston Nutt may be leaving. Perhaps he’ll go to LSU.

NO. 2 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (11-0). The biggest story brewing in college football this year is the head-to-head battle that will take place between Kansas and arch rival and #3 ranked Missouri this weekend. NOBODY ever saw this coming at the beginning of the season. With this game on the horizon, it would have been easy for the Jayhawks to overlook Iowa State. No way, Jose. Kansas thrashed the Cyclones, 45-7, behind QB Todd Reesing’s 4 TD passes. Bring on Mizzou!

NO. 3 MISSOURI TIGERS (10-1). What else needs to be said about Missouri? They took care of business last week, beating up on Kansas State, 49-32, to set up this week’s blockbuster tilt in Kansas City with #2 Kansas. Mizzou walloped Kansas last year, 42-17, so we could either expect a similar outcome from a much improved team of Tigers, or we might see a payback effect (buoyed by tons of confidence) coming from the Jayhawks. If it’s really true that defense wins ballgames, then Chase Daniel and the Tigers better find a way to generate more scoreboard than Kansas is allowing this year (14.2 per game).

NO. 4 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (9-1). There is something scarily inevitable about WVU’s slow crawl back up through the rankings, but it will still take an LSU loss to put Rich Rodriguez’s team in the big dance. One of the two teams ahead of the Mountaineers has to lose, of course, because No. 2 Kansas plays No. 3 Missouri this weekend. Unfortunately for WVU, though, that also means one of those teams will have to win. Still, while LSU is good, the Tigers aren’t superhuman, and Arkansas and Tennessee are both capable of putting West Virginia over the top — that is, if the Mountaineers don’t stumble over Connecticut.

NO. 5 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (11-1). Amazingly, the Buckeyes still have a shot at the national championship game, thanks to Oklahoma and Oregon both losing last weekend. Either Kansas or Missouri will take a tumble after this week, and #4 WVU still has to face Connecticut and Pitt in the next two weeks. All the Bucks can do is sit back and hope the chips fall in their favor. The Rose Bowl Game officials would love to lock in Ohio State right now because they haven’t been to Pasadena in 11 years and they represent the best of the Big Ten.

NO. 6 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (9-2). Mark Richt’s overachieving pack of ‘Dawgs was this close to an SEC East title last Saturday, beating Kentucky while Tennessee appeared to be falling to a Vanderbilt squad that had almost upset Georgia the week before. Hold the celebration, though: UT scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to pull it out. Georgia’s game with Georgia Tech Saturday is meaningless as far as the SEC is concerned — it all depends on Tennessee and Kentucky. Knowshon Moreno continues to look like the best freshman running back in the country, Matthew Stafford continues to blossom, and Georgia continues to win. But if they tie with Tennessee at the top of the East standings, an earlier loss to the Volunteers will come back to haunt them.

NO. 7 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (9-1). The Sun Devils’ Turkey Day game hosting USC should be more exciting than any of the NFL games on the tube Thursday, and there’s far more at stake. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the Pac-10 title and an automatic Rose Bowl Game berth. It will be something to see Dennis Erickson matching wits with Pete Carroll. Both coaches had a bye week to help them develop a scheme. Two years ago, ASU held a 21-3 halftime advantage over the Trojans but ended up losing 38-28. This should be a very close game, perhaps decided by nothing more than a field goal.

NO. 8 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (9-2). The question is: Is Miami that bad, or are Virginia and Virginia Tech — both of whom pummeled the Hurricanes in successive weeks — that good? Tech has a formidable task ahead of it at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on Saturday, and it may hinge on which Sean Glennon shows up. Or, if the Tech O-line can keep superstar pass rusher Chris Long from twisting Glennon into a pretzel.

NO. 9 OREGON DUCKS (8-2). Controversy is beginning to boil like volcanic lava in Eugene this week with allegations that Mike Bellotti knew Dennis Dixon should not have been playing on his injured knee against Arizona. Dixon was lost for the season when his knee collapsed midway thru the first quarter … he had just ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run a few minutes earlier and had Heisman written all over his jersey. Without Dixon, you might as well call this team the “sitting Ducks.” We can easily see them melting down after the loss of their best player and losing to UCLA and arch rival Oregon State during the next two weeks.

NO. 10 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (9-2). The Sooners might very well be in the same shape as Oregon without their starting QB Sam Bradford at the helm and Oklahoma State coming to town this weekend. On top of that comes the loss of sensational running back DeMarco Murray. It’s a must-win situation for the Okies. A loss will likely give Texas the South Division title in the Big 12, assuming the Longhorns take care of business with Texas A&M. If the Sooners can win, they’ll get a shot at either Kansas or Missouri in the Big 12 title championship game, and a win there would generate an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game.

NO. 11 USC TROJANS (8-2). The Trojans’ game against ASU on Thanksgiving Day will determine whether Southern Cal is BCS-worthy this year, or not. In past seasons, this match-up would have had national title implications for USC, but as we’ve been saying for several weeks now, this Trojan team doesn’t have the same chemistry as its predecessors. The Holiday Bowl would love to see USC and Texas bang it out down in San Diego. That’s not such a bad consolation prize for losing to ASU, beating UCLA and ending the regular season 9-3.

NO. 12 FLORIDA GATORS (8-3). The Gators have two of the most exciting players in the nation in sophomore QB Tim Tebow (who is looking more and more like the Heisman winner) and quicksilver wide receiver/running back Percy Harvin. Unfortunately, neither of them play defense, and that’s been Florida’s problem this year — if the Gators don’t score more than 29 points, they lose. Florida State could give them trouble in the season finale.

NO. 13 TEXAS LONGHORNS (9-2). The Longhorns enjoyed a bye week as they prepare to send Dennis Franchione packing from his Texas A&M Aggie head coaching job this Saturday. It’s also time for payback, as the Aggies won last year, 12-7. They need to give a lot of thanks to Texas Tech for throwing a wrench in Oklahoma’s lock on the South Division lead. A win over A&M coupled with a Sooner loss will give the Longhorns a shot at winning the Big 12 next week.

NO. 14 HAWAII WARRIORS (10-0). Once again, Hawaii struggled mightily with a mediocre opponent on the mainland. This time, they needed a last-second field goal to defeat Nevada, 28-26. Imagine what might happen to them if they play in a BCS bowl game against a really good team. Colt Brennan made an appearance for two plays and was yanked, thus ending his bid to break more streak-based career records that were in his sights. Tyler Graunke had no problem filling in the position (33-46, 358 yards, 2 TDs) during the win. The WAC title and a BCS bid are on the line when #17 Boise State storms the islands this Friday.

NO. 15 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (9-2). After a late-season slump, the Eagles fought back into the ACC championship game last Saturday with a 20-17 victory over Clemson in Death Valley. As usual, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Matt Ryan was 31-47 for over 300 yards and a touchdown, the game-winner to Rich Gunnell. By winning at Lane Stadium and at Clemson, the Eagles ran the table in two of the toughest places to play in America. This week’s game with Miami is meaningless.

NO. 16 VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (9-2). It’s been a harrowing, on-the-edge season for Virginia — which means that nobody can count them out against a higher-rated, more highly regarded Virginia Tech team this Saturday. If DE Chris Long, son of Howie, can spend quality time in the Hokies’ backfield and Virginia can avoid turning the ball over (an impossible dream for most Tech opponents), anything can happen.

NO. 17 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (10-1). The Broncos have finished feasting on WAC bottom feeders like Idaho (58-14 last week) and will face their stiffest test of the conference schedule on the road at Hawaii this Friday. As mentioned previously, the WAC title and a possible BCS bid are on the line. The game will reveal a lot about both teams and whether or not they deserve to be ranked this high.

NO. 18 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (9-3). Illinois is probably the best 9-3 team in the country right now and could easily be ranked several notches higher, say like near Florida at #12. The Illini took care of business and finished off pesky Northwestern last weekend, 41-22. Bowl game prognosticators are having fun projecting Ron Zook’s squad against Florida in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. That would actually be one of the best games of the bowl season, should it come to fruition. It would be fantastic to see QBs Juice Williams and Tim Tebow in the same game, not to mention the intrigue of Zook, the Gators’ former head coach, matching smarts with his replacement, Urban Meyer.

NO. 19 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (8-3). That deep exhale you heard last Saturday came from the Tennessee Vols, who let out a collective gasp as a last-second Vanderbilt field goal barely drifted off line as UT scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and came away with a 25-24 victory that kept them in line for an SEC East title. Now, the Vols just need to beat Kentucky in the regular season finale.

NO. 20 CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (9-2). It seems like everybody is 9-2 at this point, but in the case of UConn, it’s a big surprise. Not even coach Randy Edsall thought they’d be that good, but after chowing down on poor Syracuse last Saturday, all Connecticut has to do to win the Big East and claim a BCS bowl berth is to beat West Virginia in Morgantown. Easy, huh?

NO. 21. CLEMSON TIGERS (8-3). After losing to Boston College last Saturday, the Tigers can’t be ACC champions, but they can still be state champions with a victory over South Carolina on Saturday. This will be fun to watch, because these teams most definitely do not like each other.

NO. 22 WISCONSIN BADGERS (9-3). The Badgers struggled to knock off Minnesota last weekend in Minneapolis, 41-34, which goes to show how fierce rivalry games can be, regardless of how unevenly matched the teams might be. All things considered, head coach Bret Bielema survived the sophomore jinx and led Wisconsin to another successful Big Ten season and one of the better bowl games outside the top tier. His two year coaching record now stands at an impressive 20-5.

NO. 23 BRIGHAM YOUNG COUGARS (8-2). The Cougars clinched a share of the Mountain West Conference title with a solid 35-10 win over Wyoming in Laramie. To provide a bit of perspective, Wyoming was 4-1 at home and had defeated #16 Virginia there 23-3 earlier this year. BYU should be wrapping up their season against arch rival Utah this Saturday, but because of the Southern California wildfires a few weeks ago, they still have San Diego State on the schedule for December 1. There’s nothing the Cougars would love to do more than to wrap up the MWC title at home against the Utes (winners of seven games in a row). A few years back, the Wall Street Journal named the BYU-Utah rivalry the fourth best in the nation. It should be another barn-burner this Saturday.

NO. 24 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (8-3). If it’s any consolation, Cincinnati will probably wind up missing a BCS bowl berth by the margin of four touchdowns — close losses to Louisville, Pitt and West Virginia. This week, they have Syracuse to take it out on.

NO. 25 AUBURN TIGERS (8-3). Louisiana-Monroe’s upset of Alabama last week will make an angry and huimiliated Crimson Tide a bit tougher to swim against in this weekend’s Iron Bowl. But Auburn’s defense should be too much for ‘Bama, no matter how fired up Nick Saban gets his team.

ON THE BUBBLE: Texas Tech, South Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Arkansas, Air Force, California, Florida State, Oregon State, Penn State, and Utah.