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November 30, 2009
This has not been the most memorable season.
Sure, some teams have underachieved relative to their preseason poll positions -- Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, USC -- and some others have been surprisingly good -- Cincinnati, Iowa, Georgia Tech. All in all, though, the season has played out like many expected.
All that should change this weekend, when the potential exists for numerous memorable games. There are conference title games in the ACC, Big 12, Conference USA, Mid-American and SEC, and there are de facto league championship games in the Big East and Pac-10.
It should make for a great weekend. Let's take a closer look.
The new guys
The most successful first-year coach, from a victory standpoint at least, is Oregon's Chip Kelly. The Ducks are 9-2 and one win away from the Rose Bowl.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Boston College's Frank Spaziani each has guided his team to eight victories. Clemson has a chance to make it nine in the ACC championship game next Saturday against Georgia Tech.
At the other end of the spectrum is Eastern Michigan's Ron English, who presided over a 0-12 season. It wasn't much better for Miami University's Mike Haywood (1-11), New Mexico's Mike Locksley (1-11) and Ball State's Stan Parrish (2-10).
Here's a look. Asterisks denote a team expected to get a bowl bid; Army still can earn one with a win over Navy. New Mexico State, Oregon and Washington also have regular-season games remaining.
Nice job by Auburn coach Gene Chizik, channeling his inner Les Miles on Friday. Trailing Alabama 26-21, Auburn gets the ball at its 25 with 1:24 left and one timeout remaining. The Tigers used that timeout with 10 seconds left -- after having moved all of 21 yards. The Tigers had had four plays in the interim, with two of them being runs; another was a pass in the middle of the field. Is clock management really that difficult?
The ACC championship game took a hit when the participants lost to in-state rivals on Saturday. Both were favored, too. Clemson fell 34-17 to South Carolina, and Georgia Tech lost 30-24 to Georgia, which ran all over the Yellow Jackets. Georgia and South Carolina each came in 6-5, but strengthened their bowl opportunities with the upset victories. Georgia Tech's loss was especially damaging to the ACC, because the Jackets were No. 7 in the BCS standings. There's now a good chance that no ACC team finishes in the top 10 in the BCS.
Arkansas' Ryan Mallett threw for just 227 yards in the Hogs' overtime loss to LSU. It was his third-lowest yardage total of the season, and his struggles once again were magnified. He has to be sharp if the Hogs are to overcome their own porous defense, and he struggled mightily in four of the Hogs' five losses. Mallett completed 57.2 percent of his passes this season, with 29 TDs and seven picks. But in games against Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, he completed just 40.4 percent of his passes -- with just four TDs.
All but one of the favored teams won in the first round of the FCS playoffs. The one upset: New Hampshire beat McNeese State, the equivalent of the No. 10 seed beating the No. 7 seed in the 16-team playoff. Top-seeded Montana fell behind 48-21 to South Dakota State with 9:20 left in the third quarter, but scored the final 40 points to win 61-48. Meanwhile, in the Division II playoffs, all four regional No. 1 seeds lost to the No. 2 regional seeds. One of the No. 1s that lost was Terry Bowden-coached North Alabama, whose home field is the host site for the national title game. Advancing to the national semifinals were California (Pa.), Carson-Newman (Tenn.), Grand Valley State (Mich.) and Northwest Missouri State.