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October 25, 2008

Saturday's winners and losers

Top-ranked Texas beat a ranked opponent for the third consecutive week. Now the Longhorns must try to make it four in a row.

Texas' 28-24 victory over Oklahoma State sets the stage for one more Big 12 showdown next week, when the Longhorns travel to Texas Tech next week in a battle of unbeaten teams. It'll be the third time in four weeks Texas has met an unbeaten opponent.

Texas and Texas Tech weren't the only teams to set the stage for a bigger matchup next week. Florida and Georgia dismantled SEC opponents to get ready for their meeting next week to determine first place in the SEC East.

And Texas, Texas Tech, Florida and Georgia weren't the only big winners in one of the biggest weekends of the season. Here's a look at Saturday's winners and losers.

Winners

Penn State: The Nittany Lions took a huge step toward winning the Big Ten crown and toward an unbeaten regular season. They also took a big step toward a possible berth in the national championship game. The Nittany Lions will be favored in every regular-season game the rest of the way and, really, the only team that can beat Penn State in the Big Ten is Penn State.

Alabama: The Tide took another big step toward winning the SEC West crown by whipping Tennessee. In the process, the Tide kept pace with Texas and Penn State at the top of the standings. Plus, LSU lost at home to Georgia, giving the Tide a two-game lead in the division.

Florida special teams. The Gators' kicking game seemed eager to prove Florida deserved better than its No. 10 ranking in the initial BCS standings. Florida blocked two punts in the opening six minutes of the game to set up the Gators' first two touchdowns in a 63-5 rout of Kentucky. Florida also blocked Lones Seiber's 32-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter.

Texas' defense. It turns out someone in the Big 12 can play defense. On a day when Texas' offense finally slowed down, its defense made sure the top-ranked Longhorns remained unbeaten. Texas tallied only seven points after halftime and failed to score on two fourth-quarter trips to the red zone, but the Longhorns still beat Oklahoma State 28-24 by holding the Cowboys scoreless on their final two possessions.

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. He threw for 368 yards and five touchdowns to help the Red Raiders reach the end zone on eight of their first nine possessions in a 63-21 blowout of Kansas. This game kicked off a four-week stretch for Tech that includes showdowns with three of the top six teams in the BCS standings: No. 1 Texas, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 Oklahoma State. If Harrell can keep up this kind of performance level, he just might win the Heisman.

Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray. On a day when Sam Bradford was just 13-of-32, Murray made sure Oklahoma's offense remained as explosive as ever. Murray rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and also caught four passes for 63 yards and two more scores in the Sooners' 58-35 victory over Kansas State. Murray scored all four of his touchdowns in the first two periods to help Oklahoma amass 55 points by halftime.

Houston Nutt: His new team, Ole Miss, beat his old team, Arkansas, and the victory likely was doubly sweet. First, the win puts the Rebels in good shape for a bowl bid. Second, the win came at Arkansas, where a vocal portion of the fan base made it clear they were tired of Nutt even though the Hogs had won the SEC West twice (2002, 2006) in the six seasons before he departed. Let's see how long it takes them to win the division again.

North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks. So much for the idea that UNC's passing game wouldn't survive the season-ending injury to star receiver Brandon Tate. Nicks had three touchdown catches and 127 receiving yards in the second quarter alone before adding a 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the Tar Heels' 45-24 rout of Boston College. Nicks finished with eight catches for 139 yards as North Carolina rallied from an early 10-0 deficit.

Rutgers QB Mike Teel. The senior quarterback received the brunt of the criticism for Rutgers' slow start this season, as he threw seven interceptions and only two touchdown passes in the Scarlet Knights' first four games. Teel went a long way toward redeeming himself Saturday by throwing for 361 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a 54-34 upset of Pittsburgh. Teel nearly had as many touchdown passes (six) as incompletions (seven).

Georgia LB Darryl Gamble. He picked off a Jarrett Lee pass and returned it 40 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Gamble intercepted Lee again in the fourth quarter and raced 50 yards for the Bulldogs' final touchdown in a 52-38 victory over LSU.

Virginia coach Al Groh. Since the end of last season, the Cavaliers have unexpectedly lost their top two quarterbacks, a starting defensive end and a starting cornerback. Virginia looked like the worst team in the ACC for the first month of the season. Yet Groh somehow kept his team together and now has the Cavs in sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. Virginia's 24-17 upset of Georgia Tech gave the Cavaliers four consecutive victories.

West Virginia. The Mountaineers were mocked mercilessly after losing two of their first three games under new coach Bill Stewart, but West Virginia owns a four-game winning streak and is the sole Big East team unbeaten in league play following losses Saturday by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden . Penn State's Joe Paterno isn't the only elderly coach enjoying a surprisingly successful season. After enduring back-to-back 7-6 seasons, Bowden's Seminoles appear ready to challenge for ACC supremacy again. Florida State's 30-20 victory over Virginia Tech allowed the Seminoles to remain tied with Maryland atop the ACC Atlantic Division.

Navy QB Ricky Dobbs . Navy's third-string quarterback replaced the injured Jarod Bryant and ran for 224 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-7 victory over SMU. Dobbs' running exploits helped Navy become the first team in 11 years to win a game without attempting a pass. The last team to accomplish that feat was Ohio in a 21-17 win over Akron in 1997.

Idaho. The Vandals beat New Mexico State 20-14 behind two 50-plus-yard field goals by Tino Amancio. The loss snapped Idaho's 17-game WAC losing streak and its 22-game losing streak against FBS (i.e., Division I-A) opponents.

Losers

Phil Fulmer: Tennessee fans weren't happy with the way the season was going before the Vols were swept aside by Alabama. Saturday's loss means Tennessee has lost to each of its biggest rivals this season: Florida, Georgia and now the Tide. And, really, at no point during any of those games could anyone think the Vols had a legit chance to win. More damning: Does anyone really think the Vols will be better than those teams next season or the next season?

Tyrone Willingham. His time as Washington's coach seems about up, and Saturday night's pounding at the hands of Notre Dame had to hurt more than a "regular" loss. His Huskies just don't have enough playmakers, especially with QB Jake Locker injured.

Northwestern. The Wildcats didn't receive a bowl bid last season despite going 6-6. Northwestern could be staring that possibility in the face once again after getting upset 21-19 by Indiana. Northwestern (6-2) conceivably may not win again with road trips to Minnesota and Michigan and home games with Ohio State and Illinois remaining on the schedule. The Wildcats better hope the injuries that knocked QB C.J. Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton out in the second half weren't serious.

Vanderbilt's offense. At least Northwestern already is bowl-eligible. Vanderbilt seems eager to fall one win short of bowl eligibility despite winning its first five games. The Commodores have followed up that winning streak by dropping three in a row, including an embarrassing 10-7 home setback to Duke. They haven't exceeded the 14-point mark in their Past four games. If the offense doesn't start performing better, the Commodores are headed toward a 26th consecutive losing season.

Wake Forest's offense. The Demon Deacons have lost two straight and stumbled out of the ACC Atlantic Division lead because of their inability to score. Wake Forest hasn't exceeded the 17-point mark in any of its last five games. One week after they were blanked 26-0 by Maryland, the Demon Deacons scored a touchdown on their opening drive and never saw the end zone again in a 16-10 loss to Miami.

Kansas' pass defense. Do you think these guys miss first-round draft pick Aqib Talib a little bit? After ranking fourth in the nation in scoring defense and ninth in pass efficiency defense last year, Kansas has allowed a total of 108 points and nine touchdown passes while recording no interceptions in the past two weeks. Texas Tech didn't punt Saturday until the final 2 minutes of a 63-21 triumph over the Jayhawks.

Purdue. The Boilermakers (2-6) lost 17-6 to Minnesota and need to win out to have any chance of earning a bowl bid. Moreover, a program that takes pride in its high-powered offense has scored six points or less in three of its past four games. This isn't the way retiring coach Joe Tiller wanted to go out. Kentucky. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks has complained about the lack of respect his program has received after capturing back-to-back Music City Bowls and overcoming a variety of injuries to win five of its first seven games this season. If you want respect, don't lose by 58 points.

Virginia Tech's special teams. A program that usually wins on the strength of its kicking game has hurt itself on special teams this season. The Hokies allowed three touchdowns on punt returns in their first seven games. Florida State didn't score on a punt return Saturday, but Virginia Tech committed a roughing-the-punter penalty that set up the Seminoles' go-ahead touchdown.

Michigan's bowl streak. Michigan's 35-21 loss to Michigan State dropped the Wolverines to 2-6. That means Michigan must win at Purdue, at Minnesota, at home against Northwestern and at Ohio State to have any chance of earning its NCAA-leading 34th consecutive bowl bid.

South Florida's poise. The Bulls committed 14 penalties in a 24-20 loss to Louisville that put a big dent in their hopes of winning the Big East title.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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