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November 8, 2009
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Iowa's luck has run out. Iowa appeared lucky to be unbeaten. Four of the Hawkeyes' nine victories had come by three or fewer points, and the Hawkeyes had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to post their past two victories. But there was no such dramatic escape on Saturday. QB Ricky Stanzi sprained his ankle early in the second quarter and missed the rest of the game. The Hawkeyes committed four turnovers in a 17-10 loss to Northwestern that knocked them out of the national championship picture. The Hawkeyes now will have difficulty winning the Big Ten. They figure to be without Stanzi next week when they travel to face conference co-leader Ohio State, which defeated Penn State 24-7 behind a solid performance from QB Terrelle Pryor.
Winning after beating USC may be more difficult than beating the Trojans. Well, since 2002, it has been. USC has lost 10 regular-season games since 2002. But only three times did the team that beat the Trojans win the next week. Oregon was the latest to follow that dubious trend. After upsetting USC 47-20 a week ago, the Ducks allowed 505 total yards and the most points they've surrendered all season in a 51-42 loss to Stanford, which clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2001.
It's time to start believing in Arizona. The Wildcats improved to 6-2 with a resounding 48-7 win, the Wildcats' third victory in a row, over hapless Washington State. Arizona is tied with Oregon for first place in the Pac-10 as it searches for its first Rose Bowl berth. Coordinator Mark Stoops' defense has played well most of the season, but it's coordinator Sonny Dykes' offense that really has come alive. Since Nick Foles took over as the starting quarterback at Oregon State on Sept. 26, Arizona's offense has scored at least 27 points in each game. But the heavy lifting now begins for the Wildcats, whose final four games will be challenging: at California, vs. Oregon, at Arizona State and at USC.
Looking for the most exciting league race? Check out the Big East. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh remain on a collision course for what could be a de facto league title game on Dec. 5 in Pittsburgh. Each is 5-0 in league play, but don't count out West Virginia. Cincinnati and Pitt have to play the Mountaineers before that Dec. 5 meeting. WVU heads to Cincinnati on Friday night and Pitt plays at Morgantown in the "Backyard Brawl" on Nov. 27. This, ladies and gentlemen, will be great theatre.
Cincinnati has major questions moving into the final games of the season. Cincinnati goes into the final three games of the season with more questions than answers. Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly made clear that injured starter Tony Pike has a better grip on the quarterback position and the system. But after Zach Collaros racked up 555 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against Connecticut on Saturday, Kelly said he has two No. 1 quarterbacks. Pike was a Heisman candidate before the injury, but Collaros is putting up numbers reminiscent of Dan LeFevour - Kelly's quarterback at Central Michigan. And what of the defense? Cincinnati changed coordinators and switched to the 3-4 in part to stop spread offenses, but Connecticut's more conventional offense gashed the Bearcats for 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Cincinnati will face spread offenses in West Virginia and a hot Illinois team in the next two games, but Pittsburgh runs a pro-style offense with a more productive running back and a better passing game than the Huskies. The regular-season finale could be a matchup nightmare that costs Cincinnati the Big East title.
TCU deserves a spot in the BCS. On its own, TCU's 55-12 victory over San Diego State isn't overly impressive. But let's look at TCU's body of work over the past month. The Horned Frogs have defeated their past four opponents by a combined 178-25. National title contenders Florida, Alabama and Texas have been less dominant over the last month. And while Boise State has a more impressive win (over Oregon) than TCU, the Horned Frogs have a more impressive body of work. Remember, TCU held Clemson to 10 points on Sept. 26. The same team has scored at least 38 in each of the past four weeks. At the same time, Boise State is allowing Tulsa and Louisiana Tech to keep it close in games on national TV. TCU still has to defeat a ranked Utah team, but the Horned Frogs should be the runaway favorite if the non-Big Six conferences get only one bid to the BCS.
This finally may be the season for Clemson. The Tigers haven't won an ACC title since 1991, and they've never played in the league championship game. But advancing to Tampa, Fla., for the league title game seems likely. Clemson has suffered some head-scratching losses in the past few seasons - heck, the Tigers lost to a pitiful Maryland team this season - but all it has to do to win the ACC Atlantic Division is to beat N.C. State and Virginia. First-year coach Dabo Swinney still seems overmatched at time on the sideline, but he has his team playing hard and - most important - relying heavily on senior RB C.J. Spiller. Spiller was underutilized by the previous offensive staff. A likely rematch with Georgia Tech would be on tap in the ACC title game. Tech beat Clemson 30-27 on a last-minute field goal on Sept. 10.
Houston is living on the edge - but it sure is fun to watch. The Cougars improved to 8-1 overall with a 46-45 victory at Tulsa that came about on a last-play, 51-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Matt Hogan. It was the longest kick of his career by 17 yards. Houston had scored a touchdown with 21 seconds left to cut Tulsa's lead to 45-43, but QB Case Keenum was sacked on the attempted two-point conversion. No problem: Houston recovered the onside kick, and Keenum completed two passes covering 27 yards to set up Hogan's heroics. Last week, Keenum threw a 26-yard TD pass to Patrick Edwards with 21 seconds left for a 50-43 victory over Southern Miss. Houston also has had fourth-quarter rallies to beat Texas Tech by one and Mississippi State by seven. Next week's game at UCF is the toughest left on the schedule, and Houston looks to be in good shape to finish 11-1.
Bill Snyder hasn't forgotten how to coach. There was plenty of snickering across the country when Snyder began a second stint as Kansas State's coach at the age of 69. Sure, Snyder had worked wonders in his first stint at Kansas State, but reaching back to the past wasn't going to help a program in need of a fresh start. Right? Well, it turns out Snyder's having the last laugh. The game certainly didn't pass Snyder by in his three years away from coaching. Kansas State (6-4) beat Kansas 17-10 on Saturday to exceed its win total from last season and maintain control of its destiny in the Big 12 North race. Kansas State was picked to finish fifth in the division and just might win it instead. It looks more and more as if Snyder was the right choice all along.
Charlie Weis is back on the hot seat - and Rich Rodriguez soon may join him. Just when it seemed as if a 6-2 start had saved Weis' job at Notre Dame for one more season, a loss to Navy put the heat on him once again, particularly with potential losses to Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Stanford remaining on the schedule. Let's say Notre Dame goes 2-1 in those games to finish 8-4, which might be a tad optimistic. Shouldn't a team with perhaps the nation's best quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) and two of the game's top five receivers (Golden Tate and Michael Floyd) do better than that? Weis isn't helped by the fact his team's early season loss to Michigan looks worse each week ? which brings us to Rodriguez. Michigan looked like one of the nation's most improved teams early in the season, but the Wolverines now have lost five of six and will be underdogs against Wisconsin and Ohio State. If they lose both, Michigan finishes 5-7 and out of the postseason for a second consecutive season. It certainly takes time to adjust to the drastic change in offensive philosophy that Rodriguez brought to Ann Arbor, but a combined 8-14 record in two years makes you wonder if this marriage ever will work.