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November 5, 2011

Winners and losers: Sooners back in hunt

Here they go again.

Two weeks after Oklahoma seemingly had blown its shot at a national title by losing at home to Texas Tech, the Sooners have moved right back into contention. It hardly matters that Texas Tech has followed up that stunner by suffering back-to-back blowout losses to Iowa State and Texas.

The Sooners trounced previously unbeaten Kansas State 58-17 last week and soared up the computer rankings, allowing them to move up to sixth in the BCS standings. Oklahoma boosted its credentials even more Saturday with a 41-25 victory over Texas A&M.

Landry Jones threw two touchdown passes as Oklahoma outscored Texas A&M 28-0 in the third quarter, continuing the Aggies' season-long trend of second-half collapses. The Aggies blew double-digit halftime leads in losses to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri. Although they only trailed Oklahoma 13-10 at the intermission Saturday, the game was out of reach by the start of the fourth quarter.

"We just really got it going here in the third quarter," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said in his postgame interview. "We knew it was going to be tough. All of their losses so far have been really tight and tough games. ... Fortunately we played a really solid game all the way around.''

Oklahoma (8-1 overall, 5-1 in the Big 12) still needs some help. The Sooners will remain behind No. 4 Stanford in the BCS standings as long as the Cardinal stay unbeaten. Stanford (9-0, 7-0 Pac-12) won 38-13 at Oregon State on Saturday to extend the longest winning streak in the FBS ranks to 17 games.

Would an 11-1 Oklahoma team finish the regular season ahead of Alabama, which lost 9-6 in overtime to LSU in a showdown between the top two teams in the BCS standings? That could end up being the key question in this season's final BCS standings. Losing to LSU is much more excusable than falling to Texas Tech. Then again, voters may decide that if the Tide couldn't beat LSU at home, they don't deserve a potential rematch with the Tigers on a neutral field.

That debate could get interesting if Stanford slips up and Oklahoma wins the rest of its games, including a Dec. 3 trip to Oklahoma State. Oklahoma's schedule strength gives the Sooners an excellent shot at eventually leapfrogging No. 5 Boise State, even if the Broncos remain unbeaten.

Oklahoma State certainly looked vulnerable Saturday while escaping with a 52-45 victory over a Kansas State team that was blown out by Oklahoma a week earlier. Oklahoma State kept its championship hopes alive only after Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein ended the game by throwing three consecutive incompletions from Oklahoma State's 5.

"It's college football's March Madness every week," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said in his postgame interview.

This turn of events shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Oklahoma has a history of receiving the benefit of the doubt in the BCS standings. Oklahoma played for the BCS title in 2003 despite losing 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. The unbeaten Sooners got to the championship game ahead of an undefeated Auburn team in 2004. When Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech each went 11-1 and tied for first in the Big 12 South in 2008, the Sooners earned the division title and an eventual spot in the national championship game because they had the highest BCS ranking of the three teams.

The Sooners' chances of making one more run at the national title could depend on their health. One week after leading rusher Dominique Whaley was lost for the rest of the season with a broken ankle, the Sooners suffered an even more serious loss Saturday when All-America wide receiver Ryan Broyles tore the ACL in his left knee.

The Sooners continued to move the ball effectively Saturday even without Whaley in the backfield. They could have a much tougher time replacing Broyles, the NCAA's career leader in career receptions.

"The offense will continue just as it has been," Stoops told reporters. "Obviously, he is a big piece that is not there, but there are other guys that will have to step up and make those plays."

If the Sooners withstand those injuries and continue their late-season surge, history suggests they just might end up playing for the national title after all.

Here's a recap of other winners and losers from the 10th week of the season.

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Boise State QB Kellen Moore: Boise State beat UNLV 48-21 to give Moore his 46th victory, giving him the most wins of any starting quarterback in FBS history. Moore broke the record formerly held by Texas' Colt McCoy, who won 45 games as a starter from 2006-09.

Northwestern QB Kain Colter: Colter, Northwestern's backup quarterback, replaced an injured Dan Persa and accounted for three touchdowns in the Wildcats' 28-25 upset of host Nebraska. Colter threw a touchdown pass and ran for two more scores after Persa hurt his left shoulder in the second quarter.

Texas RB Joe Bergeron: This true freshman ran for 191 yards and three touchdown as Texas rolled to a 52-20 victory over Texas Tech despite playing without its leading rusher (Malcolm Brown) and receiver (Jaxon Shipley). After rushing for 61 yards in Texas' first six games, Bergeron has gained 327 yards in the past two weeks. Brown sat out Saturday's game with turf toe, while a knee injury sidelined Shipley.

Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: After Wisconsin suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses on long touchdown passes in the closing seconds, Ball took out his frustrations on Purdue. Ball ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns in a 62-17 blowout of Purdue.

Virginia SS Rodney McLeod: He intercepted three passes to help Virginia end its 13-game November losing streak with a 31-13 triumph over Maryland. Virginia hadn't won a November game since a 48-0 shutout of Miami on Nov. 10, 2007, in the Hurricanes' last game at the Orange Bowl.

North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien: If only he could face North Carolina every week. North Carolina State's 13-0 victory Saturday marked the fifth consecutive season the embattled coach has led the Wolfpack to a victory over their chief rivals. The win must have been particularly sweet for O'Brien, who exchanged verbal jabs with North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers in the days leading up to the game.

Iowa RB Marcus Coker: There might not be a hotter running back in the country right now. Coker ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-16 victory over Michigan, which marked his fourth consecutive game with at least 127 yards. Coker has rushed for 647 yards over his past four games and has run for two touchdowns in each of those contests.

Georgia QB Aaron Murray: With three running backs (Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcolme) serving suspensions and a fourth (Richard Samuels) recovering from ankle surgery, Murray picked up the slack by beating New Mexico State with his arm. Murray threw five touchdown passes in the second quarter alone as Georgia breezed to a 63-16 triumph. He ended the day with an equal number of touchdown passes (five) and incompletions.

Ohio State's balanced rushing attack: RBs Dan Herron and Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller each rushed for 100 yards in Ohio State's 34-20 victory over Indiana. Herron ran for 141 yards on 14 carries. Hyde rushed 15 times for 105 yards. Miller had 105 yards on 14 attempts, including an 81-yard touchdown.

Southern Miss' opportunism: Southern Miss scored four non-offensive touchdowns in a 48-28 victory over East Carolina. The Golden Eagles reached the end zone on Jamie Collins' 97-yard interception return, Deron Wilson's 79-yard interception return, Tracy Lampley's 60-yard punt return and Emmanuel Johnson's 15-yard runback of a blocked punt.

Miami RB Lamar Miller: It's hard to believe the alma mater of Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore hadn't produced a 1,000- yard rusher in eight seasons. Miller's 147-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 49-14 rout of Duke gave him 1,016 yards this season, making him the Hurricanes' first 1,000-yard rusher since McGahee reached that plateau in 2002.

The timing of Western Kentucky K Casey Tinius: After missing seven consecutive field-goal attempts earlier this season, Tinius picked the perfect time to end his slump. His 34-yard field goal as time expired gave Western Kentucky a 10-9 victory over Florida International and allowed the Hilltoppers to win their fifth in a row.

LSU K Drew Alleman: Both defenses were awesome. Both offenses were shut down. So the heavyweight battle between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama came down to special teams, where the Tigers had the clear edge. Alleman accounted for all of LSU's scoring by making each of his three field-goal attempts, including a 25-yarder to give the Tigers' 9-6 overtime victory. Alabama's Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley went a combined 2-of-6 on field goals. Credit also belongs to LSU P Brad Wing, who landed four of his six punts inside Alabama's 20.

Stanford QB Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes: Luck didn't have a particularly noteworthy performance, as he threw for 206 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a victory over Oregon State. But he cemented his status as the clear Heisman front-runner when Alabama failed to score a touchdown in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU. Alabama RB Trent Richardson could have emerged as the Heisman favorite if the Tide had won the game. Even though Richardson had 89 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards, Alabama's loss and its inability to reach the end zone hurt his Heisman hopes.

Houston QB Case Keenum: Another week, another record. Keenum threw for 407 yards in a 56-13 rout of UAB to increase his career total to 17,212, making him the NCAA's career leader in that category. Keenum broke the record formerly held by Timmy Chang, who had 17,072 passing yards for Hawaii from 2000-04.

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel: For the past few weeks, it's seemed almost a certainty that Neuheisel would lose his job at the end of the season. But what if he manages to send UCLA to the Pac-12 championship game? Believe it or not, UCLA is tied for first place in the Pac-12 South Division after rallying for a 29-28 victory over Arizona State. UCLA now controls its own fate in the division.

Baylor: The Bears gained a school-record 697 yards of total offense in a 42-39 victory over Missouri.

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Nebraska's offense: The Huskers gained just 3.5 yards per carry against the nation's 95th-ranked run defense. Northwestern had allowed at least 34 points in each of its first five Big Ten games, but Nebraska needed a last-minute touchdown just to reach the 25-point mark. One week after rushing for 130 yards against Michigan State's vaunted defense, Rex Burkhead gained just 69 yards on 22 carries.

Texas A&M (whenever it visits Oklahoma): The SEC-bound Aggies won't miss their trips. Since Stoops took over at Oklahoma in 1999, Texas A&M has lost all seven of its games at Owen Field. Only one of the games - a 36-30 contest in 2005 - has been decided by fewer than 16 points.

North Carolina's offense: North Carolina State entered the day ranked 82nd nationally in scoring defense, but North Carolina made the Wolfpack seem as intimidating as Alabama or LSU. The Tar Heels gained just 165 total yards, gave up four sacks and threw three interceptions Saturday while suffering their first shutout loss since 2006. Starting QB Bryn Renner was knocked out of the game with concussion-like symptoms. Gio Bernard, who had rushed for 100 yards in six of his past seven games, gained just 47 yards on 18 carries.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt's job status: Nutt's situation grew even more tenuous Saturday as the Rebels blew their best shot at an SEC win this year by falling 30-13 at Kentucky, which had been winless in league play. Ole Miss allowed true freshman QB Maxwell Smith to throw for 283 yards in his first career start.

West Virginia's kicking game: West Virginia's Tyler Bitancurt missed field-goal attempts from 32 and 23 yards in a 38-35 loss to Louisville. The 23-yard miss was blocked and returned 82 yards for a Louisville touchdown. In addition, West Virginia's Mike Molinari averaged 20.7 yards on each of his three punts.

Vanderbilt's defense: One week after a costly fumble and a missed short field-goal attempt cost Vanderbilt a victory over Arkansas, the Commodores once again could only wonder what might have been. Florida was clinging to a 20-14 lead and facing fourth-and-inches from its 15 when the Gators didn't send their punting unit out; they attempted to see if the Commodores would jump offside. Sure enough, the Commodores jumped. Later in the drive, Vanderbilt committed a pass interference penalty on third-and-15 to allow Florida to maintain possession again. The Gators hung on for a 26-21 victory.

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Big East: League officials should cross their fingers that Cincinnati (6-1) hangs on to first place because every other team in the conference has at least three losses already. West Virginia's loss to Louisville reduced the likelihood that the only Big East team with much drawing power could earn the conference's BCS bid.

Texas Tech: Since pulling off the upset of the season at Oklahoma, Texas Tech has been outscored 93-27 in its past two games.

Army's lack of ball security: Army lost four fumbles and blew a 14-0 halftime lead in a 24-14 loss to Air Force. One fumble came in the end zone, turning a potential Army touchdown into a touchback. The other three fumbles came in Army territory and led to 13 Air Force points.

Alabama's gamble: With the score tied at 6 in the fourth quarter of a defensive struggle, Trent Richardson's running helped move Alabama to LSU's 28. So why didn't the Tide continue giving the ball to their best offensive player? They instead relied on some trickery that backfired when WR Marquis Maze's pass to TE Michael Williams was intercepted by LSU's Eric Reid.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks no longer are in control of their destiny in the SEC East race. South Carolina's 44-28 loss to Arkansas allowed Georgia to move into sole possession of first place in the division.

Wake Forest's red-zone execution: Wake Forest twice drove to Notre Dame's 10 without scoring in a 24-17 loss to the Irish. One of those scoring threats ended when Wake RB Brandon Pendergrass fumbled at the 9. Later, after getting a first-and-goal at the Irish's 10 in the fourth quarter, Wake went backward and ended up missing a 42-yard field goal.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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