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November 23, 2008

Rivals.com experts: What we learned

MORE: Weekend winners and losers

Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.

Olin Buchanan

The Pac-10 will not fill all seven of its bowl slots. That was assured when Stanford, which needed a victory to reach the six required for bowl eligibility, fell to rival California in the "Big Game." That ensures three of the conference's 10 teams (including Washington and Washington State) won't be eligible. In addition, either Arizona State or UCLA - which each have four wins but play next week - won't make it. In fact, both might not. The Sun Devils close at Arizona, while UCLA faces USC. That would leave the Hawaii and Poinsettia bowls, which are affiliated with the Pac-10, looking elsewhere to find teams.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford replaced Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell as the Heisman front-runner. The trophy was Harrell's to lose going into Saturday's showdown with Oklahoma, but he struggled against OU. Harrell threw for more than 300 yards, but much of that was in garbage time in a 65-14 loss. He also threw an interception and obviously was rattled by the Sooners' pass rush. Bradford passed for 309 yards and four touchdowns.

Tom Dienhart

Texas' worst nightmare may be unfolding. With Oklahoma thoroughly thrashing unbeaten Texas Tech, the Sooners are poised to jump the Longhorns in the BCS standings. If it doesn't happen this week, it likely will happen if the Sooners win at Oklahoma State next weekend. That will allow OU to play Missouri in the Big 12 title game, with a likely spot in the BCS championship game on the line. Yes, Texas beat Oklahoma, but the Sooners are benefiting from playing marquee teams late in the season.

Utah clearly deserves a BCS bowl berth over Boise State. Boise can cap an unbeaten season with a home win over Fresno State next weekend. But the Utes' convincing 48-24 triumph over BYU is another positive on a resume that clearly is more impressive than Boise State's. The Broncos play in a league (WAC) that is much weaker than the Mountain West. Utah opened the year with a win at Michigan, which at the time was an impressive feat. The Utes have followed with victories over Oregon State, which may be Rose Bowl-bound, and TCU, which is one of the nation's top teams regardless of classification. And with a second trip to a BCS bowl in five seasons, 12-0 Utah clearly is the standard-bearer when it comes to non-"Big Six" programs.

David Fox

The gap between Penn State and Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten is enormous. Penn State and Ohio State clearly are the class of the conference, but who is No. 3? Can you really consider Michigan State, a team that lost to the top two by a combined 94-25? Wisconsin and Illinois were supposed to put pressure on the Buckeyes this season, but they flopped miserably. Illinois will miss the postseason altogether, while Wisconsin lost five conference games and barely got by Cal Poly in overtime Saturday. Upstarts Minnesota and Northwestern clearly aren't ready to compete with the top of the league. Michigan is a mess. I'd nominate Iowa, who routed the Gophers 55-0 and knocked Penn State out of the title race earlier this month, as the No. 3 Big Ten team right now. Iowa's four losses have come by a total of 12 points, but that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the depth of the conference.

Cincinnati needs to take Syracuse seriously. I don't want to sound like Lou Holtz (Holtz the coach, not Holtz ESPN talking head) here, but Cincinnati needs to take lowly Syracuse seriously. Cincinnati hasn't clinched the Big East yet, though the Bearcats behaved as if they did Saturday night. All the Bearcats need to do is beat the worst team in the conference at home. Sounds easy, right? Probably. But isn't this the same conference where No. 2 West Virginia lost at home to Pittsburgh a year ago? Syracuse is coming off a come-from-behind win over Notre Dame the Orange's most complete game of the year. Later in the day, the Bearcats looked a little too comfortable with their status as Big East front-runners, especially on a 41-yard touchdown catch by Pitt's Dorin Dickerson. Cincinnati's not blowing anyone out these days. A little overconfidence could shatter the Bearcats' season.

Mike Huguenin

LSU needs to find a quarterback. No one really expected the Tigers to get a chance to play for another national title this season. But no one expected them to lose four games, either. They're under .500 in the SEC, which is down this season. Unless a consistent quarterback emerges, next season could be a long one, as well. Coach Les Miles seems likely to make some changes to his defensive staff, and his offensive staff's top priority better be working with the quarterbacks. True freshman Jordan Jefferson has had his moments the past two weeks, and he might be the guy to build around. LSU does have a commitment from five-star quarterback Russell Shepard, but it's hard to imagine LSU being ultra-successful in 2009 with a true freshman quarterback.

Oklahoma's experience factor was huge. OU is used to playing in big games; Texas Tech isn't. That, in a nutshell, was why the Sooners blew the Red Raiders' doors off Saturday night. It's one thing to win big games at home, which Tech did against Texas and Oklahoma State; it's another to go on the road in a hostile environment and play well. Texas Tech found that out Saturday night. OU dominated from the beginning and made it ugly for the Red Raiders.

Steve Megargee

Charlie Weis ought to be coaching to save his job next week. Weis is a Notre Dame alum with a long contract and an impressive list of 2009 recruiting commitments, so perhaps he gets one more season even if the Irish get blown out by USC to finish 6-6. But does he really deserve to stick around after an inexplicable home loss to Syracuse? Notre Dame now is 9-16 in its past 25 games, and the Irish have regressed over the course of the season. In their past four games, they blew a pair of double-digit leads at home, barely avoided an epic collapse at Navy and failed to score a point at Boston College. If the Irish stay within single digits of USC next week and win their bowl, you could make a decent argument that Weis ought to stay, even though he would enter the 2009 season on the hottest seat of any returning coach. But if the Irish get trounced by USC once again, the Irish may want to swallow hard, buy out that contract and begin looking elsewhere. After all, Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has a nice Irish name.

Pat White plans to close his career in style. The West Virginia quarterback's senior season hasn't gone according to plan. Injuries have bothered him, his production is down and his team's two-year reign as Big East champion will end if Cincinnati beats Syracuse at home this week. But White proved Saturday he remains one of college football's elite players. White rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns and passed for two more scores in a vintage performance that gave the Mountaineers a 35-21 victory over Louisville. White now has rushed for 4,292 career yards, the highest total by any quarterback in NCAA history. And the guy best known for his mobility also threw his 98th career touchdown pass to break former Syracuse star Donovan McNabb's Big East record. Although it remains to be seen if White's skills translate to the NFL, he already has secured his status as one of the most exciting and extraordinary players in Big East history.

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