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November 15, 2008
Winners and losers from Saturday
The Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish, Buckeyes and Trojans avenged losses from a year ago, but Riley wasn't able to earn personal redemption against Oregon State.
Alabama rolled past Mississippi State, snapping the Bulldogs' two-game winning streak in the series and scoring an offensive touchdown against Sylvester Croom's team for the first time since 2005. Ohio State rolled to a victory over Illinois, the only team to beat the Buckeyes in the regular season in 2007. Notre Dame nearly blew a 20-point lead in the final minutes, but the Fighting Irish hung on for a 27-21 victory over Navy; the Midshipmen won at Notre Dame in triple overtime last season for their first win over the Irish since 1963. Finally, USC put together a big fourth quarter to win by 22 at Stanford a season after the Cardinal pulled one of the biggest upsets in college history by shocking the Trojans in L.A.
Riley, meanwhile, was hoping to make amends for his blunder in California's 31-28 loss to Oregon State last season. After California drove inside Oregon State's 15-yard line in the final minute of that game, Riley unsuccessfully tried to scramble for a touchdown, allowing the clock to run out before the Golden Bears could attempt a field goal. The rematch also went down to the final minute before Keenan Lewis picked off a Riley pass and returned it 31 yards for a game-clinching touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the Beavers' 34-21 victory.
Here are some of the other winners and losers from Saturday's games.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores won at Kentucky, giving them their elusive sixth victory and qualifying them for bowl eligibility. Vandy had started 5-0 before losing four in a row. The Commodores haven't been to a bowl since 1982.
Miami: The Hurricanes didn't play Saturday, but they may have been the day's biggest winner. North Carolina's 17-15 loss to Maryland allows the Hurricanes to control their destiny in the ACC Coastal Division race. Miami (7-3 overall, 4-2 in the ACC) has won five games in a row and can clinch a trip to Tampa by winning at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State the next two weeks.
Texas' defense: After giving up an average of 30 points per game in its past five contests, Texas' defense finally delivered a championship-caliber performance to keep the Longhorns' title hopes alive. Texas beat Kansas 35-7, holding the Jayhawks to their lowest point total since a 19-3 loss to Oklahoma in 2005.
Florida WR Percy Harvin: He may be listed as a wide receiver, but Harvin remains one of the game's most dangerous runners. Although he only caught one pass in the Gators' 56-6 rout of South Carolina, Harvin also ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Harvin has 52 carries and 33 receptions this season, and he has scored 14 touchdowns. If he touched the ball more often, Harvin would be a definite Heisman contender.
Rutgers: Perhaps no team in the country has improved so dramatically in the second half of the season. After losing five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights won their fourth in a row Saturday with a 49-16 triumph at USF. A victory over Army next week would make Rutgers bowl eligible, an idea that seemed preposterous a month ago.
Northwestern: Who figured this would be the Big Ten team from Illinois still chasing a 10-win season at this point in the season? Northwestern's 21-14 victory over Michigan improved the Wildcats' record to 8-3. If Northwestern beats Illinois next week and wins its bowl game, it would post double-digit wins for the first time since its Rose Bowl season of 1995.
Ohio State RB Chris Wells: Wells rushed for just 76 yards on 20 carries last year in a 28-21 loss to Illinois, the lone team to hold him below 100 yards in the Buckeyes' final six games of the season. Wells made sure history didn't repeat; he carried 24 times for 144 yards and a touchdown in a 30-20 victory over Illinois that kept the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl hopes alive.
Iowa RB Shonn Greene: Perhaps he hasn't supplanted Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell as the Heisman Trophy front-runner, but Greene should at least have guaranteed himself a trip to New York with his latest exceptional performance. Greene, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each game this season, gained 211 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 22-17 victory over Purdue.
Georgia WR A.J. Green: The freshman phenom caught a game-winning touchdown pass for the second consecutive week. Last week, Green's 11-yard reception with 2:05 remaining gave the Bulldogs a 42-38 victory over Kentucky. Green followed that up by catching a 17-yard touchdown pass with 8:24 left to put Georgia ahead for good in a 17-13 triumph at Auburn.
Boston College: The Eagles spoiled Florida State's homecoming, riding a strong ground game and tough rush defense to beat the Seminoles 27-17. BC kept its ACC title hopes alive while basically ending Florida State's.
Case Keenum: You ever heard of him? Well, if you don't know who he is – he's Houston's quarterback – you need to pay closer attention. He has thrown for 300 yards in all 10 games this season, and tossed six TD passes and ran for another score Saturday night as Houston mauled Tulsa 70-30. Houston led 42-17 at halftime, then scored on its first three possessions of the second half.
The Rose Bowl: Well, sort of. Oregon State won to continue its surprising run to a possible Pac-10 title. That doesn't excite the Rose Bowl folks, who have visions of a Penn State-Oregon State rematch dancing in their heads. But the Rose Bowl people probably did get excited when USC turned it on late to zoom past Stanford to remain in the running for the Pac-10 crown. A Penn State-USC Rose Bowl? Now that would excite a lot of people.
Oregon State's Rodgers brothers: Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown in Oregon State's victory over California. Rodgers' older brother, James, caught a team-high six passes, ran for an 18-yard touchdown and returned a kickoff 86 yards for another score. Oregon State can clinch its first Rose Bowl berth since 1965 by winning at Arizona and beating Oregon at home the next two weeks.
Notre Dame running game: Notre Dame turned the ball over three times, failed to score an offensive touchdown and lost star receiver Michael Floyd to an injury in the first half against Navy. So in his return to play-calling duties, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis went back to basics in the second half. The Irish ran the ball 18 times and attempted just five passes – only two of them to wide receivers – while scoring on each of their first three second-half possessions in a 27-21 victory.
Navy's guts down the stretch: Two weeks ago, Navy beat Temple in overtime after trailing 27-7 in the fourth quarter. The Midshipmen nearly pulled off an even more improbable comeback against Notre Dame. The Irish led 27-7 and had the ball on Navy's 3 with less than six minutes remaining, but they still nearly blew the lead against a team that rarely passes the ball. Navy recovered a fumble at its 5 and recovered two onside kicks before finally falling just short of beating the Irish for a second consecutive season.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt: Ole Miss made a major offseason upgrade in its coaching staff when Nutt replaced Ed Orgeron. The difference is evident in the Rebels' record. One year ago, the Rebels went 3-9 and failed to win a single SEC game. Ole Miss now is 6-4 and bowl eligible after a 59-0 thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe.
Clemson WR Aaron Kelly: The senior caught 10 passes in a 31-7 victory over Duke to give himself a career total of 217 receptions, breaking the ACC record previously held by Desmond Clark, who played at Wake Forest from 1995-98.
Michigan: The Wolverines' 21-14 setback to Northwestern in their home finale gives them an eight-loss season for the first time in the program's 129-year history.
Ranked teams whenever they play Maryland: If Maryland could play a ranked team every week, the Terrapins might be contending for a national title instead of a mere ACC crown. Maryland's 17-15 victory over North Carolina marked the Terps' sixth consecutive victory over a ranked opponent. The win improved Maryland's record to 7-3 overall and allowed the Terps to continue to control their destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division race.
Tulsa: Remember all that talk about how the Golden Hurricane could ride their prolific offense to an unbeaten season and perhaps a BCS bid? Well, those dreams ended two weeks ago with a loss to Arkansas. Now, you wonder if Tulsa will even win Conference USA after it was thoroughly embarrassed 70-30 at Houston.
Florida State: The Seminoles lost 27-17 to Boston College. On homecoming. To make matters worse, the loss all but ensures that FSU won't win its ACC division. Plus, in-state foes Florida and Miami had good weekends – UM won Thursday night over Virginia Tech and controls its destiny in the ACC race. Florida eviscerated South Carolina by 50 in its march toward a possible national title game appearance.
South Carolina passers: No matter how often Steve Spurrier alternated Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia, he couldn't find a solution for South Carolina's passing woes. Smelley and Garcia combined to throw three interceptions and no touchdown passes in a 56-6 loss at Florida. Even the Gamecocks' non-quarterbacks were making bad passes in this game. South Carolina defensive back Dion Lecorn attempted a backward pass to a teammate on a kickoff return, but the errant throw was recovered by the Gators at South Carolina's 1 to set up a touchdown.
Punters and their blockers: Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame scored touchdowns on blocked punts Saturday. North Carolina got an early safety against Maryland when a snap sailed over the head of punter Travis Baltz.
Illinois: The Illini's 30-20 loss to Ohio State puts them on the verge of becoming the first Big Ten team since the 1965 Michigan squad to have a losing season the year after reaching the Rose Bowl. Illinois must win at Northwestern next week to avoid that dubious achievement.
USF: West Virginia's early season struggles and Cincinnati's quarterback injuries made the Bulls a popular pick to win the Big East. The Bulls instead have won just one Big East game all season. The Big East's biggest disappointment fell 49-16 at home to Rutgers for its third consecutive loss. Matt Grothe has thrown eight interceptions and three touchdown passes during the losing streak. USF's defense has given up 32.3 points per game in its past three contests.
Notre Dame hands team: Navy nearly made a miraculous comeback against the Irish because Notre Dame allowed the Midshipmen to recover two onside kicks in the final two minutes. This game also continued Notre Dame's season-long inability to hang on to leads, which could put even more pressure on embattled Irish coach Charlie Weis. The Irish squandered double-digit leads in losses to North Carolina and Pittsburgh and wasted most of a 21-point advantage in a 28-21 victory over Stanford.
Minnesota: The Gophers' performance against Wisconsin was a microcosm of their season – they followed a fast start with a second-half collapse. Minnesota blew a 21-7 halftime lead in a 35-32 loss that gave the Gophers (7-4) a three-game losing streak. Minnesota gave up two safeties and turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons' hopes of playing for the ACC title likely vanished with a 21-17 loss at North Carolina State, the last-place team in the ACC Atlantic. A potential game-winning touchdown pass went off the hands of Wake Forest receiver Marshall Williams in the final minute.
New Mexico: For the first time in its three-year history, the New Mexico Bowl won't have the Lobos playing at their home stadium. New Mexico (4-8) will sit out the postseason after ending the year with a 20-6 loss to Colorado State that capped a four-game losing streak, the Lobos' longest skid since 1998.