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November 23, 2009

Monday with Mike: Six perfect in imperfect year

We're three days from Thanksgiving, which means the season is winding down.

That's sad. But what also has been sad is that this season - quite frankly - hasn't been all that memorable. Instead of there being four or five games every weekend that have been "must watch," instead it seems as if there have been just one or two.

That's especially true of late. Think about this past weekend. It was Week 12, yet there weren't many compelling games that made you want to plop yourself in front of the TV and watch 13 hours of football.

But there has been one intriguing story line through the whole season - the number of unbeaten teams. There are six this week, and that's the most this late in the season during the BCS era, which began in 1998.

Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Texas and TCU are the remaining six unblemished teams. What's weird: There are vastly many more unbeatens than there are one-loss teams (just two: Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh). Heck, there are almost as many unbeaten teams as there are two-loss teams (10).

The six unbeatens also occupy the top six spots in this week's BCS standings, which - believe it or not - is newsworthy. Let us explain.

The second-highest number of unbeatens at this point in the season during the BCS era was 2004, when there were five - USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah and Boise State. While the Trojans, Sooners and Tigers were first, second and third in the BCS standings, the Utes were sixth and the Broncos seventh. All five of those teams finished the regular season unbeaten, and four - all but Boise State - ended up with BCS bids. USC, Auburn and Utah finished unbeaten. Oklahoma lost to USC in the national title game, and Boise State was beaten by one-loss Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.

Last season, there were four unbeatens at this point in the season - Alabama, Utah, Boise State and Ball State. They were first, sixth, ninth and 15th, respectively, in the BCS standings. None won the national title. Utah was the only one to finish unbeaten. Alabama lost in the SEC championship game, then to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Boise State lost to one-loss TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. Ball State ended up losing twice, to Buffalo in the MAC title game and to Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl.

In 1998, the first season of the BCS, there also were four unbeatens at this point in the season - Tennessee, UCLA, Kansas State and Tulane. They were first, second, third and 11th, respectively, in the BCS standings. Tennessee and Tulane were the only ones to finish unbeaten. The Vols beat one-loss Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title, while Tulane beat BYU in the Liberty Bowl. UCLA finished with two losses; the Bruins fell in the regular-season finale at Miami, then lost to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. K-State also finished with two losses. The Wildcats were stunned by Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game, then fell to Purdue in the Alamo Bowl.

In 1999, there were three unbeatens at this point of the season - Florida State, Virginia Tech and Marshall; the teams were ranked first, second and 13th, respectively. FSU and Virginia Tech ended up meeting in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, with the unbeaten Seminoles handing the Hokies their first loss of the season. Marshall finished 13-0, beating BYU in the Motor City Bowl to finish a perfect season.

Five times - in 2001, '02, '05, '06 and '07 - there were two unbeatens at this point in the season. Only twice, with Miami and Ohio State in '02 and USC and Texas in '05, were the teams first and second in the BCS. Both times, the No. 2 team ended up winning over the No. 1 team in the championship game. In '01, the unbeatens were No. 1 Miami and No. 12 BYU. In '06, it was No. 1 Ohio State and No. 11 Boise State. In '07, it was No. 2 Kansas and No. 15 Hawaii. Five of those six teams - all but BYU - went on to BCS games. Miami won the title, and Ohio State lost in the championship game. Kansas and Boise State won their BCS games, and Hawaii lost.

In 2000 and '03, there was one unbeaten at this point of the season - Oklahoma in both instances. The Sooners remained unbeaten and won it all in 2000. In '03, the Sooners lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game but still advanced to the Sugar Bowl, where it lost to LSU for the national title.

There could be as many as five unbeatens when this regular season ends. TCU seems to be the best bet to finish unblemished, as the Horned Frogs have one-win New Mexico left. Alabama has archrival Auburn, then Florida in the SEC championship game. Boise State has Nevada and New Mexico State. Cincinnati has Illinois and one-loss Pittsburgh remaining. Florida has archrival Florida State, then Alabama in the SEC championship game. And Texas has rival Texas A&M, then Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.

Five unbeatens would tie the record, set in 2004, of the most unblemished teams at the end of the regular season. That's the only time in the BCS era there have been more than two unbeatens. There were two in 1998, '99, '02, '05 and '06; there was one in 2000, '01, '07 and '08; and there were none in 2003.

Running wild
Nevada's Luke Lippincott ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in the Wolf Pack's 63-20 demolition of New Mexico State. That gives Lippincott 1,028 yards this season and makes Nevada the first team in NCAA history to have three players rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

He joins starting running back Vai Taua (1,185 yards) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,129 yards) in reaching the 1,000-yard plateau.

Not surprisingly, Nevada leads the nation in rushing at 373.2 yards per game. The Wolf Pack had a season-high 574 yards against New Mexico State; it's their third 500-yard game of the season, surpassing the 559 yards against UNLV on Oct. 3 and the 517 against San Jose State on Nov. 8.

In addition, Nevada has run for at least 312 yards in each of its past eight games - all victories. Nevada rushed for at least 461 yards in five of those games.

Worth noting, though, is that in its first three games - all losses - Nevada averaged 180 rushing yards, solid numbers but not enough to overcome a mediocre defense.

We bring this up because Nevada is the last true regular-season test for Boise State; the teams meet Friday night on the Broncos' blue turf.

Boise has been solid against the run this season, ranking 29th (119 ypg). But Fresno State gashed the Broncos for 320 rushing yards, and Idaho ran for 209. Boise, of course, won both those games - and rather easily, in fact, by a combined 114-59.

Against Boise, Nevada's excellent run offense likely will be offset by its pitiful pass defense. The Wolf Pack rank next-to-last nationally in pass defense at 286.3 yards per game and 115th in pass-efficiency defense. Nevada opponents have completed 60.6 percent of their passes, for 28 touchdowns against eight picks.

If you're Nevada coach Chris Ault, those numbers are not comforting, considering Boise State's Kellen Moore - who leads the nation in passing efficiency and has 33 TD passes and just three interceptions - will be throwing against your guys next.

The last time these teams met in Boise, in 2007, it was a game for the ages. The Broncos prevailed 69-67 in four overtimes. Nevada rolled up 639 yards of offense in that one - it was Kaepernick's second college start - but Boise had 627. Last season, Boise won 41-34 in Reno by stifling Nevada's rushing attack.

"We're taking a lot of momentum [into the game]," Ault told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "They're the target that everybody shoots for."

Staying alive and saying good-bye
True freshman running back Lonnie Pryor scored on a 3-yard run with 32 seconds left to give Florida State a 29-26 victory over Maryland. The victory made the Seminoles bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive season.

Maryland had taken a 26-22 lead with 4:29 left, then picked off an E.J. Manuel pass with 2:57 to play. But the Terps had to punt the ball back to FSU, and the Seminoles capitalized.

FSU's bowl streak is the longest current run in the nation.

It was the final home game of the season for the Seminoles and the final game at Doak Campbell Stadium for longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who already announced his retirement this season. Still, attendance was 66,402 - almost 16,000 short of capacity.

Andrews, 68, was given a garnet-colored pickup truck by his former players. Andrews performed the traditional spear-at-midfield ceremony before the game and was carried off the field by his current players after the game.

"If they had played as hard as they needed to, they wouldn't have had the energy to haul an old man off the field," Andrews told reporters afterward.

He was smiling, which means he was joking. Then again, given Andrews' passion and irascible nature

Grid bits
When an embattled coach all but admits he's gone - "If they decide to make a change, I'd have to say I'd have a tough time arguing with them," Charlie Weis said Sunday. Isn't it prudent just to go ahead and tell everyone the coach is gone? Why all this intrigue at Notre Dame? Call a news conference to announce Weis' termination and let him coach the team in the finale next week at Stanford. Meanwhile, start the search for a new coach already.

North Carolina is sixth in the nation with 19 interceptions, and nine of them have come in the past two weeks in victories over Miami and Boston College. Last week against the Hurricanes, cornerback Kendric Burney had three picks and returned one for a score. Saturday against the Eagles, free safety Deunta Williams had three picks and returned one for a score. UNC has won four in a row. With the regular-season finale next week against N.C. State, the Tar Heels (8-3) have a good shot at taking a five-game winning streak into the postseason. UNC has won five of its past six games and forced 20 turnovers in those victories.

Give it up for New Mexico, which won its first game of the season, beating Colorado State 29-27 on a 27-yard field goal by James Aho with 12 seconds left. "It's been a long time coming," first-year Lobos coach Mike Locksley told reporters afterward. Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky are the only remaining winless teams.

Texas senior Colt McCoy set the FBS record for most wins by a starting quarterback with his 43rd in the Longhorns' rout of Kansas. The previous mark had been held by former Georgia standout David Greene.

Unless Georgia upsets Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, the Bulldogs are going to finish with at least six losses for the first time since going 5-6 in 1996 in Jim Donnan's first season. That also is the last time the Bulldogs had a losing record, which could happen if they lose to Tech, then lose their bowl game.

Staying with Georgia, the Bulldogs lost at home to Kentucky on Saturday; it was UK's first win in Athens since 1977. If the Wildcats beat visiting Tennessee on Saturday, they will finish 4-4 and tied for second in the SEC East. As it is, no SEC East team other than Florida is going to finish better than 4-4 in league play.

The MAC West race was decided Saturday when Ohio U. beat Northern Illinois 38-31, giving the division title to Central Michigan. Meanwhile, Ohio kept its hopes for the MAC East title alive with the victory. The Bobcats play division leader Temple on Friday morning; the winner nabs the division title and advances to play Central Michigan in the MAC title game on Dec. 4. The MAC's division winners are guaranteed bowl bids; one other MAC team also is guaranteed a bowl slot, which makes Ohio's win over Northern Illinois doubly important.

Southern Miss senior RB Damion Fletcher ran for 88 yards in the Golden Eagles' 44-34 victory over Tulsa, giving him 877 for the season. He is trying to become just the eighth player in major-college history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His last regular-season game is Saturday against East Carolina, which is third in Conference USA and 43rd nationally in rush defense. Southern Miss also is bowl eligible, giving Fletcher two games to get the needed 123 yards.

Duke senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis threw for 303 yards in the Blue Devils' loss at Miami on Saturday. That gives him 9,678 career passing yards, which is third in ACC history. He's not going to catch leader Philip Rivers (who threw for 13,484 yards at N.C. State from 2000-03), but he's 162 yards away from passing former Florida State Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to move into second place. Weinke had 9,839 yards from 1997-2000. Lewis ends his career against Wake Forest on Saturday. Wake's Riley Skinner has 9,390 yards and is sixth in ACC history. Skinner is 449 yards from tying Weinke. He is 276 yards from passing former Clemson standout Charlie Whitehurst, who currently is fourth in league history. Thus, expect a lot of passes Saturday in Durham.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist, but enough already with the uniform changes for Nike-affiliated schools. Florida State and Ohio State wore special Nike Pro Combat uniforms Saturday, and neither looked good. This week, Florida will wear new uniforms. You have to wonder if soon, every school will be like Oregon and change weekly.

The oldest rivalry in the nation - Lafayette-Lehigh - was played Saturday. It was the 145th meeting, and Lehigh upset the Leopards 27-21 in overtime. Lafayette stills leads the series 76-64-5.

Going into Saturday's home game against Penn State, Michigan State's five losses this season had come by a total of 23 points. The Nittany Lions gave the Spartans a sixth loss, and this one came by 28 points.

BYU beat Air Force 38-21. It was the Cougars' sixth victory in a row over the Falcons. In each of the wins, BYU has scored at least 31 points and won by at least 14 points.

One season after going bowling, Vanderbilt finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC. The finale was a 31-16 loss at Tennessee on Saturday. That was the high point total for the Commodores in an SEC game this season; they scored 71 total points in their eight conference games.

The 16-team FCS playoff field was announced Sunday, and Montana -- the lone unbeaten in the FCS ranks -- was made the No. 1 seed. Villanova, which beat Temple this season, is the No. 2 seed. Southern Illinois, whose only loss is by three points to Marshall, is the No. 3 seed, and defending champion Richmond -- which beat Duke but lost to Villanova by one point -- is the No. 4 seed. First-round games are this weekend, and the final is Dec. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Other teams in the field who beat FBS programs are New Hampshire (which beat Ball State) and William & Mary (Virginia). South Carolina State is the only team in the field other than SIU whose one loss was to an FBS school (to South Carolina).

Seven of the top eight seeds have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The only top seed that failed to advance was Shippensburg (Pa.), which was a No. 2 regional seed. Of note in Saturday's second round was a shootout to end all shootouts, as West Liberty (W.Va.) beat Edinboro (Pa.) 84-63. The teams combined for 1,394 yards of offense, an all-time division record; they also broke the all-time division record for passing yards with 1,170. West Liberty led 70-28 in the third quarter before Edinboro made the final more respectable.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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