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November 30, 2008

Rivals.com experts: What we learned

MORE: Saturday's winners and losers

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

Olin Buchanan

The ACC, which has been ripped weekly for its mediocre play, isn't so bad after all. Some have suggested the ACC doesn't deserve its automatic BCS bid. But Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest closed the season with victories over South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt of the SEC. Critics can't even say the ACC teams benefited from playing weak competition. All three of those SEC teams are bowl eligible.

Defense still wins championships. Well, at least it can put teams in position to win championships. Wide-open offenses and gaudy scores grab attention and make for great highlight shows, but that adage about defense still applies in some places. Alabama maintained its No. 1 ranking with a dominant defensive effort in a 36-0 victory over Auburn, which was held to 170 yards and lost three fumbles against the Crimson Tide. Alabama has held seven opponents to one touchdown or less. Likewise, USC is on the brink of another Pac-10 championship because of its defense. The Trojans' 38-3 victory over Notre Dame was the ninth time they held an opponent to a touchdown or less. A victory over lowly UCLA next week would clinch the Pac-10 title.

Tom Dienhart

Boise State doesn't deserve a BCS bid. Yes, Boise State looked impressive in annihilating Fresno State 61-10 to cap a 12-0 regular season. But that doesn't mean the Broncos deserve a BCS bid. First of all, Boise isn't even the best non-"Big Six" team in the nation. That distinction belongs to Utah, which has a better resume. The Broncos' lone impressive victory was at Oregon. Conversely, Utah has toppled Michigan, Oregon State, TCU and BYU. And talk of matching Boise State and Utah in the Fiesta Bowl is just that talk. Utah will be the lone non-"Big Six" team that gets a BCS bid. There is no way any BCS bowl would select Boise State over, say, Ohio State or a Big 12 team as an at-large selection.

The Pac-10 lost big bucks. Oregon's 65-38 victory over Oregon State cost the Beavers a trip to their first Rose Bowl since the 1964 season, and it also cost the Pac-10 a second BCS bid. Had Oregon State prevailed in the Civil War and advanced to Pasadena, the Pac-10 almost assuredly also would have sent USC to a BCS bowl. Now, only the Trojans appear headed to a BCS bowl, poised for a Rose Bowl matchup with Penn State. No doubt, Ohio State and a Big 12 South team now basically are guaranteed BCS bids as at-large selections.

David Fox

Other than Alabama and Florida, SEC fans need to keep their bragging to themselves. SEC fans have had a field day since Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 in the championship game two seasons ago. Every SEC team's major non-conference win has been met with chants of "S-E-C, S-E-C." Time to give it a rest. Beyond Florida and Alabama, there's not much that separates the SEC from other leagues. In some ways, it's worse. Thanks to Georgia's galling loss to Georgia Tech and LSU's collapse, Ole Miss looks like the third-best team in the SEC and the Rebels lost to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt early in the season. Florida's rout of Florida State was the SEC's only win over the ACC in four games this weekend. The SEC went 4-6 this season against the ACC, and Alabama and Florida have three of those wins. Overall, the SEC was 6-8 against the other "Big Six" conferences. The vaunted SEC depth and defensive prowess isn't anything to crow about beyond the division winners.

The BCS games need to get more creative this season. Oregon saved the Rose Bowl by knocking Oregon State out of the rematch with Penn State. The rest of the major games should follow suit and give us a truly memorable BCS season. The BCS field likely includes Alabama, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma joining Penn State. Non-"Big Six" interlopers Utah, Boise State and Ball State are undefeated. No matter how those teams finish, it has the makings of a compelling January, provided the bowls are up to the task. Only an ACC-Cincinnati Orange Bowl is guaranteed to be a downer. It's time to see some real creativity from the old guard. If the Rose Bowl loses USC or Penn State to the title game, don't fill that spot with a second Big Ten or Pac-10 team. Fill it with Boise State. Or one of the other games could match up Utah and Boise. If there's not going to be a playoff, the onus is on the BCS to make the bowl games fun. Of course, these scenarios would create national championship ambiguity or would be a no-win scenario for a "power conference" team playing Utah or Boise State, which is exactly what the BCS power brokers are trying to avoid.

Mike Huguenin

All hail Boston College's coaches. The Eagles are headed to the ACC Championship Game for the second consecutive season, but with a vastly different cast. BC went into the season having to replace its star quarterback, its top four rushers, a key receiver, its best defensive player, a top linebacker and its best cornerback. Yet coach Jeff Jagodzinski and his staff have BC back in the title game. There have been some good coaching jobs done in the ACC this season, most notably by Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and North Carolina's Butch Davis. But what Jagodzinski has done trumps them all. Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani and offensive coordinator Steve Logan also deserve a ton of credit.

Oklahoma's defense makes every game exciting. Oklahoma ranks 66th in total defense. One reason is that OU's offense scores so much that OU's defense frequently is on the field. At the same time, the Sooners sure do get torched a lot. Oklahoma State rang up 452 yards Saturday. That's the sixth time this season OU has surrendered at least 400 yards. The combined number of times Alabama, Florida, Penn State and USC have allowed 400 yards in a game? Zero.

Steve Megargee

Michael Crabtree isn't Texas Tech's only quality receiver. Crabtree has spent the past two seasons showing why he's the nation's top wide receiver, but Texas Tech proved Saturday it could win without him. The Red Raiders rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat Baylor 35-28 even after an injured right foot knocked Crabtree out of the game midway through the second quarter. The absence of Crabtree made Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell even more resourceful than usual. Harrell had his own injury problems he hurt two fingers on his left hand in the second quarter and is having surgery Sunday but he still threw for 309 yards and completed passes to 10 players. Detron Lewis was particularly effective in Crabtree's absence. Lewis, a sophomore from College Station, Texas, caught nine passes for 68 yards - including a 4-yard touchdown that put Texas Tech ahead for good with 6:14 left in the game.

N.C. State and Georgia Tech have bright futures. N.C. State and Georgia Tech won't be facing off in the ACC Championship Game next week, but both have plenty of reason to feel good about themselves. The Wolfpack (6-6) became bowl eligible Saturday by beating Miami 38-28 for its fourth consecutive victory. The Wolfpack have one of the nation's brightest young quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Russell Wilson, who celebrated his 20th birthday by throwing two touchdown passes and running for a third score. Wilson has 16 touchdown passes and just one interception this season. Georgia Tech (9-3) staked its claim as next year's ACC preseason favorite by rushing for more than 400 yards for the second consecutive week in a 45-42 victory over Georgia. Redshirt freshman Roddy Jones and sophomore Jonathan Dwyer combined to rush for 358 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt already has proved he can run Georgia Tech's option attack. If Nesbitt improves his passing accuracy he was 1-for-6 against Georgia the Yellow Jackets could prove even more dangerous in Paul Johnson's second season.

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