An off week, so no travel adventures. Just a Saturday full of watching wall-to-wall football. So this week’s big blog will be all football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Let’s go straight to the gridiron.
We’ll start a new feature this week. Analyzing the Big 12 bowl outlook. The Big 12 has eight bowl tie-ins. In descending order…
* Fiesta: Oklahoma. The champ goes here, unless it makes the Big Bowl in New Orleans. The Sooners could make the Big Bowl; they also could lose in San Antonio. But my bet’s on Glendale, Ariz. Most likely foe: USC.
* Gator: Texas. The Gator passed on the Big 12 in 2006, which means now the Jacksonville folks must take a Big 12 team two out of the next three years. A common theory says the Gator most covets OU or Texas. If the Longhorns win out to go 10-2, the Gator seems a good fit. If the Gator passes, the Sun comes into the rotation, but further down. Most likely foe: Virginia Tech.
* Cotton: Missouri. The Tigers never have played in the Cotton Bowl and have an excellent team; 8-1, with a 10-point loss at OU. Dallas would be a good spot for an 11-2 Mizzou team. Most likely foe:
* Holiday: Kansas. I’m assuming a Jayhawk loss to Missouri, but if KU beats Mizzou and goes to the Big 12 title game, then Kansas could be in Dallas. Of course, if Kansas keeps this up, it could be in Glendale. Heck, forget the desert. Kansas could make it to New Orleans. But I don’t think so. Most likely foe: Arizona State.
* Alamo: Kansas State. If OSU beats Texas and Kansas, the Cowboys would likely finish 8-4 and be prime for San Antonio. But at 7-5, the Alamo would probably make a play for K-State, which is 5-3 and more likely to go 8-4. Most likely foe: Illinois.
* Insight: OSU. The Tempe, Ariz., bowl hasn’t had the Cowboys and will be interested in letting OSU fans prove themselves as good travelers when they have to fly. And this is a good place to fly to. Most likely foe: Indiana.
* Independence: Texas Tech. Any bowl will take any team over Colorado. The Red Raiders likely are headed for a 7-5 finish. Most likely foe: Mississippi State.
* Texas Bowl: Colorado. Buffs are headed for a 7-5 finish, and Houston bowl organizers will have to scramble to sell tickets. Most likely foe: Houston U.
TEN THINGS I LEARNED SITTING ON THE SOFA
10. Texas Tech is a fraud. The Red Raiders are 6-3 with victories over SMU, UTEP, Rice, Northwestern Louisiana, Iowa State and Texas A&M. Tech still has Baylor to play, so the Raiders will get to seven wins, but this is not a vintage Tech team. Colorado’s Terrence Wheatley covered Texas Tech freshman phenom Michael Crabtree much of the game. Crabtree had 12 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown — yet Wheatley won the duel that was as much fun as anything on TV all day. Wheatley’s three interceptions of quarterback Graham Harrell won the game.
9. Kid Nichol has a future at Michigan State. The OU freshman committed to Michigan State before switching to the Sooners; now Nichol is stuck behind Sam Bradford, who doesn’t seem likely to give up the job until, oh, 2011. So Nichol has a choice to make. Transfer, sit out and have three years eligibility remaining somewhere. Or be patient and likely be the OU quarterback as a fifth-year senior in 2011. Michigan State has a decent junior quarterback in Brian Hoyer, a 60-percent passer with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. But the Spartans will need a QB in 2009.
8. Barry Tompkins is the worst network announcer in America. Any sport. The Fox Sports Net play-by-play man called the USC-Oregon game; why he is the lead voice on Pac-10 telecasts remains a mystery.
7. Good news for Big 12 officiating. The zebras are just as bad everywhere else in college football. I saw two of the most horrendous calls I’ve seen in years. In the Mississippi State-Kentucky game, Mississippi State’s Derek Pegues was called for an out-of-bounds hit on scrambling Kentucky Andre Woodson. Trouble was, Woodson was not out of bounds. He was striving for the first-down marker, and Pegues hit Woodson in bounds and kept him from reaching the first down. Yet here came a flag. In the Arizona State-California game, Cal fumbled a punt and the Sun Devils recovered, but a Pac-10 official inexplicably whistled the play dead. Horrible calls. Just horrible.
6. Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart might deserve the Heisman. Stewart, who played awfully well in that duel against OU’s Adrian Peterson in September 2006, ranks with Arkansas’ Darren McFadden as the best tailbacks in college football. The demise of USC is vastly overstated; the Trojans held Oregon to 339 yards, though the Ducks won 24-17. Stewart’s 103 yards on 25 carries were all big.
5. The SEC East is grand fun. Georgia leads at 4-2. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are tied for last at 2-3. That’s 11/2 games separating first from last. Georgia still has to play Auburn. Tennessee controls its own destiny; it wins the East with victories over Arkansas, Vanderbilt and at Kentucky. But who knows what will happen in this crazy division.
4. Tennessee is a total mess. The Vols are like Seinfeld’s girlfriend in that episode when she alternately looked beautiful and hideous. Tennessee got routed in September road games at California and Florida, then whipped Georgia. But Alabama walloped the Vols on Oct. 20, and Phil Fulmer’s job security seemed shaky. Then Tennessee went up 21-0 on South Carolina on Saturday night. But the Gamecocks scored 24 straight points to take the lead, and the Volunteers needed a 48-yard field goal with five seconds left, just to send the game into overtime. There, Tennessee won and now is in control of the East. Totally unpredictable team.
3. Texas’ slump is not over. The Longhorns rallied to beat Nebraska 28-25, thanks to Jamaal Charles’ 216 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, but no way the Huskers should have extended the ‘Horns. Nebraska has been awful the last month; Texas should have rolled in this game. And didn’t.
2. Kansas saw Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams’ character urged his prep school students to “seize the day,” and the Jayhawks certainly have done that. They have taken advantage of a cream-puff non-conference schedule, a favorable conference schedule and a generally down year in the Big 12 to forge a 9-0 record. Give Kansas credit. The Jayhawks have won in Manhattan, Boulder and College Station. And get this; Kansas is a 19-point favorite this Saturday against Nebraska.
1. Ohio State is better than we thought. The Buckeyes routed Penn State in Happy Valley, and now it appears only Michigan can derail Ohio State’s return to the Big Bowl.
TEN BIG LOSERS FROM WEEK 9
10. Rice: The Owls lost to Marshall 34-21 in perhaps college football’s dud game of the year; the 0-7 Thundering Herd vs. the 1-6 Owls.
9. South Florida: After beating Auburn and West Virginia, the Bulls now have lost two straight, to Rutgers and Connecticut, which is not as bad as it sounds but still is not kosher for a team that a couple of weeks ago had national-championship aspirations.
8. Phil Bennett: The SMU coach had to know he would get the axe, but the Mustangs wasted little time after SMU officially was eliminated from bowl eligibility. The Mustangs led Tulsa 23-21 late in the game and had first-and-goal on the TU 5-yard line. Somehow, that turned into a 29-23 defeat, and Bennett was fired the next day, effective the end of the season.
7. Mark Sanchez: The USC quarterback, with his chance to shine in relief of injured John David Booty, played not so well in a 24-17 loss at Oregon. Booty can’t get back fast enough for the Trojans.
6. Michigan State: The Spartans blew a 17-3 halftime lead and lost 34-27 in overtime to Iowa, and now 5-4 Michigan State might not make a bowl game.
5. Karl Dorrell: The UCLA coach just can’t get over the hump. The Bruins went to Pullman, Wash., controlling their own destiny in the Pac-10, 4-0 in the league with games against Washington State and Arizona next. But UCLA was dominated 27-7 by WSU, and now a bowl game might not even be in the cards.
4. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles should be the class of Conference USA but were routed at home by Central Florida 34-17 and fell to 4-4.
3. Mike Leach: Another year in which the Texas Tech coach will fail to even challenge for the Big 12 South title. The Red Raiders are amazingly consistent, but after a 31-26 home loss to Colorado, Tech is headed for a fifth-place finish in the South, their worst in the Big 12 era.
2. Virginia Tech: Let’s see. Playing the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, on your home field, leading 10-0 with six minutes left, in rainy conditions, and you punt the ball away and never really get it back in losing 14-10. The Hokies could have been in the BCS race.
1. Tim Tebow: The Florida quarterback went from Heisman front-runner to beat-up quarterback as Georgia popped the Gators 42-30.
TEN BIG WINNERS FROM WEEK 9
10. Turner Gill: I know I’ve lauded Gill before, but he’s got Buffalo U. 4-1 in the Mid-American Conference after a 26-10 win over Akron. If Gill keeps winning, Tom Osborne will have to look at him for the Nebraska job.
9. Mark Mangino: The leading candidate for national coach of the year. Kansas is 9-0 after winning at Texas A&M, and the Jayhawks figure to be 10-0 going to Stillwater.
8. Phil Fulmer: The Tennessee coach went from the hot seat to riding shotgun in the SEC East. The Vols beat South Carolina 27-24 in overtime after squandering a 21-0 lead. If Tennessee wins out (Arkansas, Vanderbilt, at Kentucky), the Vols reach the SEC title game.
7. Matthew Stafford: The Georgia quarterback upstaged Tim Tebow in the Bulldogs’ 42-30 upset of Florida. The sophomore looked good in beating Oklahoma State in September. He looked awfully good in beating Florida — 11 of 18 passing for 217 yards and three TDs.
6. Dennis Dixon: Don’t rule out Dixon for the Heisman after he led Oregon to a 24-17 victory over USC.
5. Connecticut: Has ever there been a BCS contender that is no better than the third-most popular team on its own campus? UConn hoops rule in the state, both men and women, but make way for football after Connecticut took over the Big East lead with a 22-15 victory over South Florida.
4. Arizona State: Two momentum-changing calls went against the Sun Devils and still they beat California going away, 31-20, to remain undefeated. The Sun Devils won’t stay that way, but Dennis Erickson has Arizona State playing well.
3. Sylvester Croom: The Mississippi State coach got a big win, 31-14 at Kentucky, and suddenly the Bulldogs have a shot at 7-5, if they can win at Arkansas in two weeks.
2. Todd Boeckman: No, not Tim Beckman, the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator who came from Ohio State. Todd Boeckman is the Ohio State quarterback making Buckeye fans think of Craig Krenzel, who led Ohio State to the 2002 national title. Boeckman might do the same, if the 37-17 rout of Penn State is any indication.
1. Matt Ryan: The Boston College quarterback looked like anything but a Heisman contender for 55 minutes against Virginia Tech. Then Ryan looked like Brett Favre in delivering two touchdown passes that beat Virginia 14-10.