Archive for year 2007

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

For the third week in a row, the pinnacle positions of the AP’s Top 25 were rocked by upsets with Kentucky outlasting former #1 LSU in triple overtime and Oregon State over #2 Cal 31-28. The results created a seismic shift with Ohio State, South Florida, and Boston College thrusting upward to assume the top three spots.

Even Michigan managed to slip back into the poll for the first time since Week 1 with their fifth consecutive win. Biggest gainers were Texas Tech (plus 10), Kansas State (plus 10), and Kentucky (plus 9). Notable drops included Cal (minus 8) and Cincinnati (minus 8). Illinois stuck around just long enough for a cup of coffee before falling back into the bubble with the other wannabes.

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (7-0). The Buckeyes throttled instate MAC opponent Kent State 48-3 and then they were gifted with the Numero Uno ranking when LSU and Cal both choked in their respective games. Brian Hartline returned a punt for a school-record 90-yard touchdown and Donald Washington returned an interception 70 yards for another TD. QB Todd Boeckman is growing more comfortable with each week. He went 13 for 16, good for 184 yards and 2 scores. Big Ten opponent Michigan State visits the Horseshoe this weekend.

NO. 2 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (6-0). Will Jim Leavitt’s Bulls wind up playing in the BCS title game? Maybe, but don’t count on it. As good as they are, the Big East leaders have now been painted with the traditional target — and that’s been the kiss of death thus far in a chaotic college football season. Thursday night, the Bulls travel to Rutgers, and they still have Cincinnati and Louisville at home. Moreover, they’re in big trouble if anything happens to double-threat quarterback Matt Grothe or big-play DE George Selvie.

NO. 3 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (7-0). The primary strength of the Eagles is their experience — Jeff Jagodzinski’s team is loaded with it. A case in point: In the third quarter of last Saturday’s 27-14 victory over ancient rival Notre Dame, Eagle QB Matt Ryan fed an interception to Irish LB Brian Smith, who dashed 25 yards for a touchdown that cut BC’s lead to 20-14. Unruffled, Ryan calmly marched his team right back down the field to score. The Eagles now have a bye week to prepare for what might be their pivotal game the rest of the way — at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Oct. 25.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (6-1). Boomer Sooners! With the exception of their loss to Colorado, they are proving that they know how to finish games this year. Missouri led them 24-23 at the end of the third quarter last Saturday, but the final frame was all Oklahoma. Final score over previous #11 Mizzou, 41-31. RB Chris Brown was a standout on the offensive side of the ball with 67 yards rushing and 3 TDs on 13 carries. Curtis Lofton led the defensive surge with a Chase Daniel fumble returned for a touchdown which proved to be the back-breaker for the Tigers. Next up: A breather of sorts on the road at Iowa State. A date at Texas Tech on Nov 17 is beginning to loom heavy in the future.

NO. 5 LSU TIGERS (6-1). Les Miles’ team fell from the top spot by the width of a Tiger’s whisker — 43-37 to Kentucky, at Kentucky, in triple overtime. Along with the chance for an unbeaten record, however, went the myth of LSU invincibility — a supposedly impenetrable defense gave up 375 yards to the Wildcats, who converted 9 of 17 third-down chances. And the swashbuckling Tigers went out not with a growl, but a whimper, as Charles Scott was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth and two. Don’t count the Bayou Bengals out of a national title, though — Matt Flynn had a horrible game against Kentucky, and he’s a lot better than that. The coaching staff has shown the ability to recognize problems and make adjustments. Moreover, the rest of the schedule looks promising — except, perhaps, for similarly defensive-minded Auburn this Saturday at home. That score could be 3-0.

NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1). Steve Spurrier has apparently found his quarterback in Chris Smelley, but the Gamecock offense was a bit smelly in the second half against North Carolina, emerging with a 21-15 squeaker. The Tar Heels are not good, so that didn’t bode well for a Gamecock squad with plenty of chances to be upset the rest of the way, beginning with Vanderbilt this week. Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas await next.

NO. 7 OREGON DUCKS (5-1). Quack, quack. It’s duck-hunting season, but these Mad Ducks were too much of a match for the Cougars of Washington State, annihilating their guests, 53-7. The win was rather costly, though, with WR Cameron Colvin going down with a broken ankle and RB Jeremiah Johnson out for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee. “Those are serious blows. Our depth will be tested,” head coach Mike Belotti said. Oregon will head to Seattle to take on Pac-10 rival Washington this weekend. The conference schedule will be grueling the following weeks with USC and Arizona State invading Autzen Stadium.

NO. 8 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (6-1). The challenge now for the Wildcats will be setting aside their campus-wide high after beating No. 1 LSU last Saturday and gettting ready for a Florida team that is not as highly ranked, but equally dangerous. Rich Brooks’ team overcame a 27-14 third-quarter deficit to outlast the Tigers in triple overtime, and they did it without star running back Rafael Little and two other starters. Florida has to come to Lexington, but Urban Meyer has had a bye-week to get his team ready.

NO. 9 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (5-1). The Mountaineers have been more than convincing in every one of their victories, but Rich Rodriguez’s team couldn’t seem to hold onto the football in a 20-13 loss to South Florida. Some young players in the offensive line and secondary are beginning to come around, but QB Pat White has to get healthy for a rough late-season schedule that starts with Mississippi State this week and includes Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville. Thursday night, the Mountaineers will become huge Rutgers fans (the Scarlet Knights host South Florida).

NO. 10 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (5-1). A possible undefeated season and certainly the #1 ranking slipped from the Bears’ claws in their 31-28 loss to Oregon State. Freshman backup QB Kevin Riley made a huge mistake on the final play of the game and took away Cal’s chance at a field goal and overtime. With 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, Cal had the ball on the Beavers’ 12-yard line. A pass play was called to try for the winning touchdown, but Riley was forced out of the pocket. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds to set up the tying 3-pointer, Riley seemed to have forgotten Cal didn’t have a timeout. He scrambled, was tackled, and the game ended. “I saw the field and I thought I could get around that guy, but it just didn’t happen,” said Riley. The Bears play at UCLA this Saturday.

NO. 11 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (6-1). Having rediscovered the magical elixir of BeamerBall, the Hokies can make a significant jump up the ladder on Oct. 25 when they host Boston College on one of those Thursday night games that Tech always seems to win. Meanwhile, they have an off-week to savor a 43-14 butt-kiciking of Duke last Saturday. Freshman QB Tyrod Taylor went down with an ankle sprain early in that game, but deposed-starter Sean Glennon stepped in to play by far his best game of the season. Of course, that was Duke.

NO. 12 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (7-0). So far, the 2007 season is looking rather magical for the Sun Devils. Led by Keegan Herring’s 119 yards rushing (76 of those yards on a spectacular touchdown run) ASU compiled 523 yards on offense to crush Washington, 44-20. The Devils’ defense swarmed all night and held Husky QB Jake Locker to his worst outing of the season (10-28, 142 yards, 1 int.). And justice was served in the AP poll by moving ASU ahead of the suddenly lackluster USC Trojans. The Sun Devils get a much needed bye this week in preparation for one helluva run at the Pac-10 title. Beginning on Oct 27, ASU plays Cal, Oregon, UCLA, USC and archrival Arizona to close the regular season.

NO. 13 USC TROJANS (5-1). The Trojans’ thoroughly unimpressive 20-13 home win over Arizona last week finally gave the pollsters the proof they needed to drop Pete Carroll’s boys below conference foes Arizona State and Oregon in the rankings. USC will get a respite from Pac-10 conference action this week as they travel to play archrival Notre Dame in South Bend this week. The Golden Domers could go a long way toward redeeming their dismal 1-6 season record by knocking off the Trojans, so it’s not going to be a cake walk for USC. The key is to stay healthy for an upcoming conference slate of games that could knock this team for a loop, including away games at Oregon, Cal and ASU.

NO. 14 FLORIDA GATORS (4-2). There’s no doubt that Florida has the talent to knock off No. 8 Kentucky in Lexington this week — any team with Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin can never be too much of an underdog. The defending national champions lost to Auburn and LSU by a total of seven points, and under ordinary circumstances, they would be sky-high for the Wildcats. The wild card, though, is the death of walk-on QB Michael Guilford — a popular player — in a motorcycle accident during the bye week. The Gators could either play as though shell-shocked, or draw even more inspiration from that tragedy.

TIE NO. 15 MISSOURI TIGERS (5-1). It really appeared this could be a special Mizzou team for the first three quarters last week in Norman. The Tigers held a 24-23 lead heading into the final quarter, but penalties and turnovers doomed them. Also a factor, was the absence of running back Tony Temple, as Missouri was held to 57 yards rushing by the Sooners. It’s important for head coach Gary Pinkel to rally his troops and reload quickly because the Big 12 conference schedule is bringing the high octane offense of Texas Tech to Columbia this weekend, followed by big games with Colorado, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Kansas. Oh yeah, throw Iowa State in there somewhere, too.

TIE NO. 15 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (6-0). “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.” That might have been a famous line from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, but it’s applicable to this Jayhawk team (so far) this season. Head coach Mark Mangino, who resembles a walrus more than the Wizard of Emerald City, will need to find a way to keep pouring on the points if Kansas is to fulfill the order for a magical season. The Jayhawks are second in the nation in scoring this season with a 50.3 per game average. Latest victim Baylor succumbed to the Jayhawk barrage on Saturday, 58-10. The remainder of the Big 12 season schedule holds the real test for Kansas. Next up is an away game this Saturday at Colorado, followed by tilts with Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Missouri.

NO. 17 HAWAII WARRIORS (7-0). Question: How do you win and still fall in the polls? Answer: By failing to impress the pollsters. Well, that’s what Hawaii and USC both did this past week. While USC’s drop might be more unexpected, the Warriors’ setback in the polls was nonetheless disconcerting to head coach June Jones. Seriously, Coach, when you barely beat a mediocre WAC team and then have the audacity to say you would have scored 60 more points if the field had been dry, we really have to question taking you seriously. Hawaii’s cream puff schedule continues this week when New Mexico State arrives in the island paradise. Seeing as how Boise State laid out the Aggies 58-0 two weeks ago, plan on Hawaii posting big scoreboard this week.

NO. 18 AUBURN TIGERS (5-2). The Tigers are obviously human, having lost to South Florida and Mississippi State, but that was without the suspended Brad Lester, now back in harness and part of a potent three-tailback rotation. Auburn’s defense was good enough to shut down Heisman hopeful Darren McFadden of Arkansas last Saturday, and could pose a problem for LSU this Saturday in Baton Rouge if the “other” Tigers aren’t able to bounce back quickly from weekend’s triple-overtime loss at Kentucky.

NO. 19 TEXAS LONGHORNS (5-2). The Longhorns took out their frustrations in Ames, Iowa last Saturday, pummeling Iowa State, 56-3. They’ll get another chance to vent their angst on the road this week when they take on Big 12 doormat Baylor in Waco. It’s all about pride for Mack Brown’s squad from hereon out because they don’t have a shot at playing in a BCS bowl this season.

NO. 20 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (4-2). Philip Fulmer’s team is still very much alive in the unsettled SEC race, and may have put a couple of bad early season losses (45-31 to Cal and 59-20 to Florida) behind it. QB Erik Ainge will be playing on Sundays next year, RB Arian Foster appears to be fulfilling his potential (139 rushing yards against Mississippi State last week) and the Vols’ O-line hasn’t allowed a sack of Ainge in 200 snaps. The problem has been a young defense, but it seems to be coming around. UT meets one of its traditional rivals, Alabama, at ‘Bama this Saturday, then plays four straight home games before finishing at Kentucky.

NO. 21 GEORGIA BULLDOGS. (5-2). Georgia held off upset-minded Vanderbilt, 20-17, last week, but TB Kregg Lumpkin joined the previously injured Thomas Brown on the sidelines in the process. That leaves freshman Knowshon Moreno, talented but green, as the lone quality rusher. That isn’t good, with Florida, Auburn and Kentucky still on the schedule. Mark Richt does have a bye week before the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (oops, they don’t like that title any more, do they?) and the Gators.

NO. 22 TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (6-1). TT thoroughly sliced, diced, and dissected the Texas A&M defense last week in their 35-7 triumph. They also probably sealed Dennis Franchione’s one-way ticket out of Texas with the win. QB Graham Harrell has already passed for 3,151 yards and 31 TDs with only 3 picks this season. Last week, he was 30 for 37, 425 yards and 3 TDs against the Aggies. Tech goes on the road to Mizzou this weekend for a huge test. Aside from a game at Baylor in a few weeks, the rest of the schedule is very tough with Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma on the horizon.

NO. 23 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (6-1). The Bearcats plummeted in the polls after losing to Louisville, and that may provide them with some incentive for the rest of the season. It’s Pitt on Saturday, then a trip to current No. 2 South Florida. With the top five teams in the Big East gleefully knocking each other off, Cincinnati is still in the running for a plum bowl.

NO. 24 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-2). Welcome back to the AP Top 25, Michigan. Last weekend’s big 48-21 win over Purdue was a statement. These Wolverines are intent on making a run at the Big Ten title this year. Despite early season setbacks against D-1AA Appalachian State and current #7 Oregon, Michigan has reeled off five straight wins, including a big one over formerly ranked Penn State. This week will be a stern test at Illinois. Of crucial concern to Wolverine fans is the health of running back Mike Hart, the nation’s most productive running back (154 ypg, 12 TDs). Hart suffered an ankle injury last week and sat out the entire second half of the Purdue game.

NO. 25 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (4-2). The Wildcats’ impressive 47-20 dismantling of Colorado last week earns them the Bounceback Team of the Week award. They had been ranked at #24 two weeks ago, but instate rival Kansas knocked them out of the polls last week. Now back in the Top 25, K-State will be tested on the road at Oklahoma State this Saturday. The rest of the Wildcat schedule actually looks very favorable, highlighted by a visit from current #15 Missouri on Nov 17.

ON THE BUBBLE: Penn State, Virginia, Illinois, Boise State, Alabama, Rutgers, Wake Forest, Wisconsin, Clemson, and Connecticut.

Fourth and inches …

There hasn’t been a regular season like this in years … so, to heck with the rankings and current BCS hullabaloo. That roller-coaster ride won’t stop until the final week, so this week’s column is dedicated to examining the title races in each conference. You might be surprised how many conference races will come down to nail-biting final week clashes to determine which teams are left standing with a trophy in their hands.

►Atlantic Coast Conference … The front-runners in each division are Boston College and Virginia Tech. They square off in Blacksburg next Thursday night. Both teams could absorb a loss and still run the table on their remaining schedules to take their respective divisions. Still alive: Wake Forest, Virginia, and Maryland. The Demon Deacons have the most favorable schedule to close out the season, but Boston College owns the tie-breaker over them in the Atlantic Division.

If BC stays healthy, it’s difficult to imagine them losing more than once down the stretch but that will probably happen this week with this year’s strange curse of the No. 2 national ranking hanging around their necks. Look for the Eagles to knock off the Hokies when they meet again in the ACC championship.

►Big East Conference … Right now, Connecticut is the only undefeated team in conference play at 1-0. They will easily lose 2-3 games down the stretch. The real players in the title chase are South Florida, Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Rutgers. The Bulls and the Scarlet Knights have the most favorable schedules to close the regular season. Rutgers owns the tie-breaker over USF, and USF owns the T-B over West Virginia. Louisville will lose a couple more times, but will spoil Rutgers in a shootout to end the season. Conference champ: South Florida.

►Big Ten Conference … If Mike Hart doesn’t play this weekend, look for Michigan to get tripped up by Illinois. Ohio State will falter once down the road, but it might not happen until the Buckeyes’ season finale at Michigan. If they enter Michigan Stadium undefeated on Nov. 17 and Mike Hart is healthy, the Wolverines will win the game and the conference tie-breaker. Penn State and Illinois will be left on the outside looking in with one too many notches in the conference loss column.

►Big 12 Conference … Oklahoma will win the South Division and the North Division winner will come out of the Nov. 17 game between Kansas State and Missouri. Texas Tech will spoil a few rivals’ hopes along the way, but it’ll fall short once again. Look for Missouri to knock off Oklahoma in a rematch in the conference championship.

►Southeast Conference … LSU won’t lose again in conference play. Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina will all lose at least one more game. That will leave LSU as West Division champs playing Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks as the East Division champs. LSU roughed up South Carolina 28-16 with the help of its home-field advantage earlier this season. They’ll prevail in a closer conference championship contest, too.

►Pac-10 Conference … Arizona State and UCLA currently are the two remaining undefeated teams in the conference. USC, Oregon and Cal each have one loss. The Bruins are impostors with gimpy quarterbacks and will lose at least twice before the season is over. Check them off the list. ASU gets Cal and USC at home, but they’ll lose on the road to the Ducks. If the Sun Devils can overcome the loss of RB Ryan Torain, they have two-week prep times for both Cal and USC and I see them winning both of those games. I see USC losing two more conference games, and it’s difficult to imagine Oregon losing again. If they do, it will be a big unexpected choke, like at Washington this weekend. This is the toughest conference race to call. I think it will be Oregon and ASU in a tie, with the Quackers holding the head-to-head tie-breaker.

►Mountain West Conference … BYU is in the driver’s seat holding a 3-0 mark with wins over two of its top three challengers. They get TCU and Utah at home, with their toughest hurdle being a mid-November chiller in Laramie against Wyoming. Air Force will lose on the road at New Mexico, giving them two losses. Look for Utah to knock off both New Mexico and Wyoming at home to kill their title hopes, respectively. If BYU falters once before its conference finale, it will be a doozy with Utah having a shot at beating the Cougars and winning the tie-breaker. But wait–if Air Force only has one more loss in this scenario, it’ll own a tie-breaker over the Utes, and BYU would own the tie-breaker over the Falcons. BYU needs to make this easy to figure out and win straight through to the Utah game. Then it won’t matter if the Cougars win or lose (well, it will, but you know what I mean) because they’ll have already clinched the MWC title. Bet on the Cougars.

►Western Athletic Conference … Hawaii and Boise State are headed for a huge showdown the Friday after Thanksgiving in what should determine the WAC championship. However, Fresno State and Nevada are very dangerous teams, especially with the emergence of Colin Kaepernick at QB for the Wolf Pack. Both of these teams could throw the WAC into a WACky funk with Hawaii visiting Reno on Nov. 16 and Boise State at Fresno State on Oct. 26. Nevada was actually far more impressive on offense than the Broncos last week in their 69-67, triple-overtime loss at Boise State, and Hawaii failed to impress, once again, in its close-shave win over San Jose State. BSU’s been there, done that, and somehow the Smurf Turfers always manage to find a way to win their way through the WAC, so give the edge to Boise State to win the title. Again.

►Conference USA … East Carolina has practically locked down the East Division honors after consecutive close-shave victories over Houston, Central Florida and UTEP. They finish with UAB, Memphis, Marshall and Tulane. Yep, surrender the East to the Pirates. The West Division race is more complicated. Houston has to play at Tulsa and UTEP. Southern Miss’ biggest challenges are Central Florida at home and UTEP away. UTEP has Houston and Southern Miss at home and Central Florida on the road. The Miners will win the West Division in a tie-breaker under the skillful direction of Mike Price and then they’ll exact revenge on East Carolina in the C-USA title game.

►Sun Belt Conference … If this conference was actually relevant, I’d spend more time dissecting it. Look for Troy to win this one by virtue of hosting the season closer against Florida Atlantic.

Special Note: I reserve the right to revise these predictions in a few weeks. The way this season is going, I’ll need the mulligan.

►Heisman hopefuls … Kentucky QB Andre Woodson is back in the driver’s seat with his gutsy performance in the upset win over LSU. Michigan’s Mike Hart slips back to No. 2. BC’s Matt Ryan jumps to third. Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell debuts at a surprising No. 4, while Arkansas’ Darren McFadden drops to fifth, and Cal’s DeSean Jackson falls of the chart … for the time being.

►Guaranteed Goners … Nebraska’s Bill Callahan and Texas A&M’s Dennis Franchione. It doesn’t matter who wins this weekend. They’re both dead men walking.

►Best Games of the Week … Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide … Wyoming Cowboys at Air Force Falcons … Texas A&M Aggies at Nebraska Cornhuskers … USC Trojans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish … Miami Hurricanes at Florida State Seminoles … Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats … Texas Tech Red Raiders at Missouri Tigers … California Golden Bears at UCLA Bruins … Kansas Jayhawks at Colorado Buffaloes … Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma State Cowboys … Auburn Tigers at LSU Tigers … Michigan Wolverines at Illinois Fighting Illini … Virginia Cavaliers at Maryland Terrapins … Michigan State Spartans at Ohio State Buckeyes … Oregon Ducks at Washington Huskies … Louisville Cardinals at Connecticut Huskies …

►Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (0-3, season 12-13) … Alabama Crimson Tide over Tennessee Volunteers … Illinois Fighting Illini over Michigan Wolverines … North Dakota State Bisons over Minnesota Golden Gophers …

USC Blanks Irish, 38-0

USC shut out Notre Dame in South Bend today, 38-0. It was the largest margin of victory ever for the Trojans over the Golden Domers in the history of the series. It was also the first time USC shut out the Fighting Irish in South Bend since 1933, and the worst home loss Notre Dame has suffered since 1956. The Irish were limited to 163 total yards while Trojan back-up QB Mark Sanchez went 21 for 38, 234 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Commentary: Notre Dame is now 1-7 with four games remaining and the loss to USC guarantees Charlie Weis his first losing season in South Bend. The Fighting Irish never looked this bad under Bob Davie or Ty Willingham. It’s downright embarrassing and excuses are lame when you have perennial Top 20 recruiting classes to work with. Expect Weis to walk the plank in 2008 with his job on the line.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

Ohio State remained in the top position for a second week in a row after surviving a furious comeback by Michigan State on Saturday. Rutgers toppled Big East foe South Florida, knocking the Bulls from #2 to #11, thus allowing ACC Atlantic Division front runner Boston College to assume the new Number Two. Biggest gainers this week were Alabama (plus 8), Virginia (plus 6), Rutgers (plus 6), and Arizona State, Michigan and Florida (plus 5). Biggest losers were South Florida (minus 9), South Carolina (minus 9) and Cal (minus 8).

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (8-0). The Buckeyes jumped back into conference play and built a quick 24-0 lead over visiting Michigan State. What looked like a blow-out turned to be a huge scare in Columbus, as the Spartans roared back with 17 unanswered points. We all know nobody is safe from an upset this year, and given the way Penn State has been playing lately, Ohio State could be heading into that exact scenario this weekend in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions are a hungry bunch and don’t forget — they knocked off the Buckeyes the last time they came to State College, PA back in 2005.

NO. 2 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (7-0). The Eagles found a foolproof way to avoid the upset bug that’s been sweeping through the nation’s highly ranked football teams — they didn’t play last weekend. And that strategy worked, because Jeff Jagodzinski’s team moved up a notch in the AP poll when South Florida lost. Thursday night, however, BC must travel to Lane Stadium in Blacksburg — recently rated the third-toughest place to play in college football by SI/ESPN — to face No. 8 Virginia Tech. The key will be whether the veteran Eagle line can keep Tech’s aggressive defenders out of QB Matt Ryan’s face long enough for him to continue his Heisman campaign.

NO. 3 LSU TIGERS (7-1). After coasting through a 5-0 start, the Tigers suddenly launched their fans on an up-and-down thrill ride. Last week was up, a 30-24 squeaker over Auburn. The week before was down, a triple overtime loss to Kentucky. LSU gets a week off to contemplate their good fortune, but on November 3, it could be another high-wire act, as the Tigers travel to Alabama to take on a Crimson Tide team no doubt bubbling over with confidence after thrashing Tennessee. QB Matt Flynn had made some big plays for LSU, but his consistency has been, well, inconsistent for a fifth-year senior.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (7-1). You can bet a lot of money was lost on the Sooners last weekend when Iowa State beat the spread and gave Oklahoma a run for their own money, 17-7. Freshman phenom QB Sam Bradford was held to 16 of 28, 183 yards and 1 interception by the Cyclones, who contained OU’s O to 316 total yards. Bob Stoops better hope last week’s performance was a wake up call for his troops because the Okies only have one breather weekend coming up in their last four games. This week they will host Texas A&M.

NO. 5 OREGON DUCKS (6-1). We still don’t know how good these Quackers really are, but the final 25 minutes of last week’s game in Seattle might provide a very good clue. Tied 24-24 in the third quarter with Washington, someone slipped after-burner additive in the Gatorade and Oregon scored 31 points to the Huskies’ ten. Final score, Ducks 55 Huskies 34. Jonathan Stewart had a monster game with 251 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 32 carries. The schedule gets really fun with USC visiting Autzen Stadium this week. Like we said, we still don’t know how good the Ducks are yet, but a major statement will be made, one way or another on Saturday.

NO. 6 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (6-1). This is where things get really interesting for Rich Rodriguez’ team — at Rutgers this Saturday, home against Louisville on Nov. 8 (a Thursday night), then at Cincinnati. Fortunately, QB Pat White appears to be nearing good health, leading his team to scores on WVU’s first five possessions of a 38-13 rout of Mississippi State. Steve Slaton also returned to form, rushing for 127 yards after being held under the century mark for two weeks in a row. Hey, somebody’s got to win the Big East.

NO. 7 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (7-0). Somebody out there has a lot of faith in these Sun Devils because there’s a lone sportswriter giving them the big nod for Number One for the second week in a row. Life couldn’t have been easier last week as ASU had a bye week to prepare for Cal’s visit this weekend and still moved up five spots in the AP poll. Consider these facts in advance of this week’s clash with the Golden Bears. ASU lost in Berkeley last season, by the embarrassing score of 49-21. They want payback. Cal has lost two heartbreaking conference games in a row. ASU is well rested and incredibly tough to beat in Tempe. In short, everything is aligned for the Sun Devils to hand Cal their third straight loss on Saturday.

NO. 8 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (6-1). Last year, Virginia Tech lost to Boston College in a Thursday night game. “It probably helped us in some way to get our team straight,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said earlier this week. But … “I’d like to get us straight this time without being beat on national television.” As usual, Tech has been living on its special teams and defense, and that’s been enough to overcome an offense that has sputtered. Sean Glennon, who was a deer in headlights in a big loss to LSU in Week Two, will start against BC (Tyrod Taylor, who replaced him, is nursing a bad ankle) with a chance to redeem himself.

NO. 9 FLORIDA GATORS (5-2). This could be the best team in the country, 5-2 record notwithstanding. And if not, QB Tim Tebow could at least be the best player. Urban Meyer’s team has gone over 40 points four times in its first seven games, and its losses were by wafer thin margins. A young defense is starting to find itself, and that’s bad news for the rest of the SEC — starting with No. 20 Georgia between the hedges on Saturday.

*TIE* NO. 9 USC TROJANS (6-1). It’s interesting that the Trojans and last year’s national champions, Florida Gators are both tied at #9 in Game Week 9 of the season. Many preseason prognosticators saw USC squaring off with either LSU or Florida in this year’s title contest. Hmmm…we don’t think so. Although the Trojans throttled a pitiful Notre Dame team last week in South Bend, 38-0, the real meat of their schedule is just beginning. They play on the road this week at Oregon. If they are lucky to escape with a win in Eugene, they still have Oregon State, Cal, ASU, and UCLA lined up, ready to punch their ticket to the Holiday Bowl. The way Oregon and ASU are playing this year, the Trojans might even have to settle for something other than a bowl trip to San Diego.

NO. 11 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (6-1). Last Saturday’s 30-27 loss to Rutgers was a downer — literally, as the surprising Bulls fell nine spots in the AP poll. Jim Leavitt’s team must play two of its next three games on the road, but those are with Connecticut and Syracuse, with Cincinnati at home sandwiched in between. A sweep could give the Bulls plenty of impetus coming into a pivotal contest with Louisville in Week 11. South Florida is a very good team, but not a dominant one, and they could stumble more than once down the stretch. Or not.

NO. 12 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (7-0). “Just win your games and everything will take care of itself.” Kansas is proving that old adage true as they march thru their schedule toward a final game showdown with Big 12 North Division contender Missouri. In between that forthcoming clash, the Jayhawks will take on Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State. It won’t be easy, but then a lot of folks didn’t think they could pull off a win in Boulder last week…they did by the score of 19-14. A close shave, but a win is a win.

NO. 13 MISSOURI TIGERS (6-1). Well, speaking of Missouri, here they are, and they deserve to be here. Last week’s 41-10 statement win over Texas Tech proved that the Tigers have just as much roar on their defense as they do fangs and claws on their O. Mizzou shifted their offensive strategy against the Red Raiders and ran the ball a lot. 212 yards worth. Yes, the Tigers ran the ball so much that QB Chase Daniel ended up with a season low 19 pass attempts in the game. Despite yielding 397 yards passing to Graham Harrell, Missouri picked off 4 of his passes, one of which was returned for a TD to open the scoring last week. The Tigers will host next door neighbor Iowa State this week.

NO. 14 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (6-2). It certainly wasn’t Andre Woodson’s fault that Kentucky lost 45-37 to Florida last week — he completed 35 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. The problem has been the defense, which last week allowed the Gators’ Tim Tebow to put up similar numbers. This week, the Wildcats have a chance to bounce back against Mississippi State and remain in the middle of a tight SEC East race.

NO. 15 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (6-2). Steve Spurrier is all about offense, and his South Carolina Gamecocks produced precious little of it in a 17-6 loss to Vanderbilt last week. Still, the Gamecocks are 6-2 and tied for first in the SEC East — and even with road games looming at Tennessee and at Arkansas, Spurrier is staying upbeat. “We’re not going to sit around here and beat ourselves up too badly,” Spurrier told “We beat Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida (which comes to Columbia on Nov. 10) two years ago, so we know it can be done.”

NO. 16 HAWAII WARRIORS (7-0). Hawaii had a bye last week and moved up one spot in the AP poll. This week they will host another lowly WAC opponent, New Mexico State. Last year, the Warriors thumped the Aggies, 49-30 in Las Cruces. That might give you some indication what’s in store for New Mexico State this week as June Jones tries desperately to jump start Colt Brennan’s failed run at the Heisman Trophy.

NO. 17 TEXAS LONGHORNS (6-2). When you’re in need of jump-starting your Big 12 campaign, it’s nice to know that Baylor is always happy to oblige. The Longhorns stampeded the Bears in Waco, 31-10, last week. Does this mean they are back on track towards a possible BCS bowl invite? Not really. They’ve got four much tougher games, check that, three tougher games coming up. This week’s game with Nebraska is beginning to look more like a Baylor type of match-up. Sorry Bill Callahan, but it’s true. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M will all provide greater challenges than the Cornhuskers will this weekend.

NO. 18 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (5-2). Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Two weeks ago, Cal was ranked #2 in the nation and poised to assume the top spot when backup QB Kevin Riley blew off a tying field goal attempt in Corvallis, Oregon against the Beavers. Last week, UCLA intercepted Nate Longshore as the Bears marched toward a winning field goal attempt in the final two minutes of the game. That loss meant that Cal will have to settle for something other than a BCS bowl bid again this year. Folks, it could get worse. Arizona State is rested and ready to lay number 3 in a row on Cal this weekend.

NO. 19 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (6-2). Thanks to their mighty tradition and consistently solid recruiting classes, the once-shamed Wolverines (season opening home losses to D-1AA Appalachian State and Oregon) have risen from the ashes to climb 11 spots in the last two weeks. Last week’s road win at Illinois was impressive, especially since workhorse running back/team leader Mike Hart did not play because of an injury. Big Ten doormat Minnesota will visit Ann Arbor this weekend, and we should see the Wolverines move up another spot or two with a win. Then Michigan fans will have to brace themselves because the final three games of the year could be real nail-biters: at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, and current #1 Ohio State at home.

NO. 20 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (5-2). Despite being hammered by Tennessee and losing to South Carolina, the Dogs remain in a three-way tie with the Gamecocks and Florida atop the SEC East standings. Mark Richt has also had an off-week to figure out how to contain Florida QB Tim Tebow and WR Percy Harvin when the Gators come to Athens this weekend. It remains to be seen whether that will help. Tebow has a bruised non-throwing shoulder, but Georgia is down to one serviceable running back — freshman Knowshon Moreno.

NO. 21 VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (7-1). The Cavaliers are one of this year’s feelgood stories, as they say in Hollywood — that is, unless you’re a UVa fan with a weak heart. After losing, badly, to Wyoming in its opener, Virginia has managed seven straight victories — five of them by five points or less, the last three by a total of five points. Like Georgia, Virginia was down to its third-string running back against Maryland last week, but Mikell Simpson (nine touches on the season before last Saturday) rushed for 119 yards, had 152 yards in pass receptions, and scored twice, including the game-winning with 16 seconds left. This Saturday, the Cardiac Cavs travel to North Carolina State.

NO. 22 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (6-2). The Crimson Tide was more like a Crimson Tsunami against Tennessee last week, swamping the Vols, 41-17. QB John Parker Wilson and WR D.J. Hall tormented freshman UT cornerback Eric Berry all day, with 13 of Wilson’s 32 completions going to his favorite target. Meanwhile, freshman DB Kareem Jackson had two picks for ‘Bama. Now, the Tide — tied with LSU in first place in the SEC West, has a week off before hosting LSU in the “Saban Bowl.”

NO. 23 AUBURN TIGERS (5-3). Auburn is still living off its Sept. 29 upset of Florida, but Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers almost beat LSU last week and now have consecutive home games with Mississippi and Tennessee Tech before closing at Georgia and against Alabama. So 8-4, or even 9-3, is not beyond the realm of the possible. Right now, this is the best 3-loss team in college football.

NO. 24 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-2). PSU had their hands full on the road last week with an inspired Indiana Hoosier squad, 36-31. Still, a win is a win. In fact, it was career win No. 369 for Joe Paterno, who now trails Bobby Bowden by just one for most victories by a major college coach. Believe it, or not, Ohio State’s visit this weekend will mark only the second time in Penn State history that a top-ranked opponent has played at Beaver Stadium. The last time was in 1989, when #1 Notre Dame outlasted the Nittany Lions, 34-23. (Had to get that in there for you Fighting Irish fans who are hungering for some old time glory moments to keep you going this year…). In this crazy, mixed up season of wild upsets, it would not be implausible at all for Penn State to knock off the Buckeyes. If any team could do it, you know Joe Paterno’s kids can.

NO. 25 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (5-2). If Rutgers is going to have a shot at winning the Big East (and a BCS bowl berth) the Scarlet Knights pretty much have to find a way to beat West Virginia this Saturday at home. It’s that simple. RB Ray Rice will have the incentive of facing one of his main Heisman rivals, Steve Slaton.

ON THE BUBBLE: UCLA, Boise State, Wake Forest, Connecticut, Clemson, Wisconsin, Air Force, Texas Tech, Brigham Young.

Fourth and inches …

Hokies let BC pull off a Dokie … Boston College’s wild and improbable comeback over Virginia Tech last night marked the third time the Eagles have beaten the Hokies on national TV on a Thursday night. Of course, Matt Ryan’s Heisman stock skyrocketed as well …

►Southern California fires and air quality … I spent several days in Los Angeles this week and the air quality from the devastating fires is as bad as reported. Nearly every school district in the region canceled their football games this week to protect the health of the athletes and fans. It’s a good thing USC and UCLA are both playing on the road this weekend. San Diego State and BYU were wise to postpone their game until December 1.

►Boise State continues dominance in WAC play … Even with home field advantage and a much stronger team than last year’s mess in Fresno, the Bulldogs of Fresno State could not stop the Bronco’s back-up running game (282 yards on the ground without Ian Johnson) or their pass rush (3 sacks and numerous rushed throws) … BSU never appeared like they were going to be seriously threatened by FSU. Final score 34-21. The Broncos continue their march toward a showdown with Hawaii on Nov 17, and look to be the best bet again to bust the BCS this year.

►You gotta wonder what’s happening in Tallahassee … Athletic director Dave Hart resigned effective the end of the year, after 13 years at the helm of the Seminole athletics department. The Florida State football program is currently 1-3 in ACC play and they are already out of the running for the conference title and BCS bowl consideration. Remember all the flak Joe Paterno was getting a few years ago when Penn State faltered in back-to-back seasons? Well, the same thing is happening to Bobby Bowden right now. Conventional wisdom says that while Bowden is facing more pressure than he’s ever experienced at FSU, he still calls the shot when it’s his time to retire.

►Callahan is a dead man walking in Lincoln … Texas will put another whipping on Nebraska this weekend and it won’t matter a bit in Bill Callahan’s bid to keep his head coaching job with the Cornhuskers. He’s already a goner. It’s just up to Tom Osborne to decide the timing of this foregone conclusion. From a recruiting standpoint, it would make sense to make it official within days of Nebraska’s final regular season game.

The balance of power will shift this weekend in the Pac-10 … Arizona State will protect their home turf and hand Jeff Tedford’s shocked Golden Bears their third conference loss in a row. Up north in Eugene, Oregon, the Ducks will officially put an end to USC’s dominance in the conference over the past six years. The outcome of these two pivotal games will set the table for next week’s battle between visiting Arizona State and the Quackers in Autzen Stadium.

►Mountain West Conference commish admits royal blunder … Craig Thompson, the Mountain West Conference commissioner, admitted in a radio interview this week with Salt Lake City sports radio station KFNZ-AM 1320 that the conference could have cut a deal to put the conference’s channel “The mtn.” on the Dish satellite system in the seven Western states that comprise the MWC footprint, but that they were holding out for a national deal. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Thompson admitted the conference’s goal was to reach only 4 million cable homes in 5 years. As word of Thompson’s confession spreads to the various fan boards, outrage is rapidly fanning out among fans of MWC teams that have significant national fan bases such as BYU and Air Force, and other conference members like TCU that are situated well outside the conference’s intermountain footprint. According to the Desert News’ Scott D. Pierce, if that pitiful 5-year goal is met by the mtn. channel, 96.1 percent of American homes still won’t have access to MWC sports. Talk about choking yourself to death … Stay tuned.

►Heisman top 5 … Kentucky QB Andre Woodson holds steady at #1 with a strong performance in close loss to Florida. BC’s Matt Ryan shoots to #2 after last night’s road win over Va Tech. Mike Hart drops to #3 after sitting out the Illinois game … Dennis Dixon of Oregon and a healthier Pat White of West Virginia move up to replace Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden at #4 and #5.

►Best Games of the Week … Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions … USC Trojans at Oregon Ducks … California Golden Bears at Arizona State Sun Devils … Georgia Bulldogs versus Florida Gators … West Virginia Mountaineers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights … North Carolina Tar Heels at Wake Forest Demon Deacons … Colorado Buffaloes at Texas Tech Red Raiders … Nebraska Cornhuskers at Texas Longhorns … Clemson Tigers at Maryland Terrapins … South Florida Bulls at Connecticut Huskies … Kansas Jayhawks at Texas A&M Aggies … South Carolina Gamecocks at Tennessee Volunteers …

►Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (2-1, season 14-14) … Connecticut Huskies over South Florida Bulls … Penn State Nittany Lions over Ohio State Buckeyes … Washington State Cougars over UCLA Bruins …

ASU Rips Cal, 31-20

Arizona State spotted Cal a 13-0 first-quarter lead and then rallied to a resounding 31-20 victory to hand the Golden Bears their third consecutive loss in Pac-10 play.

Running back Dimitri Nance registered 85 yards rushing and three TDs on 21 carries to lead the Sun Devils to the win. Cal’s Heisman candidate, DeSean Jackson, was limited to 88 yards receiving and a score on five receptions.

After reaching the No. 2 ranking in the nation just 15 days ago, with a realistic chance to eventually play in the BCS title game, Cal will now have to settle for a second-tier consolation bowl game in the postseason.

Commentary: ASU is the only undefeated team remaining in the Pac-10 this season. The Sun Devils will face their toughest test next Saturday when they travel to Eugene, Ore., to take on the one-loss Ducks. The Sun Devils own a 4-6 lifetime record at Autzen Stadium, having won the last two times they played there, in 2002 and ’06. It will be the second consecutive week that Oregon has hosted a matchup between two top-10 ranked teams.