The Lead Story of Week 8 (in 25 words of less): LSU takes part in yet another thriller, beating Auburn on the final play from scrimmage to remain alive in the SEC and national title hunts.
Summa Cum Laude
Vanderbilt – Obviously jealous that every other SEC East team was making headlines this year, the ‘Dores finally made news on Saturday, beating No. 6 South Carolina 17-6. While the division is out of reach, the win pushed Vandy over .500 and one big step closer to bowl eligibility.
2. Alabama – To Tide fans, few weekends of the year matter more than the third Saturday in October. ‘Bama spanked Tennessee, 41-17, to remain deadlocked with LSU atop the SEC West.
3. Rutgers – Welcome back to the Big East race, Scarlet Knights. Down and out after back-to-back losses, Rutgers channeled the 2006 team on Thursday night, becoming the first team to beat South Florida in 2007.
4. LSU – Battle-tested after enduring a wicked three-game stretch, including Saturday’s comeback win over Auburn, the Tigers get two weeks to field questions about facing former head coach Nick Saban, now the boss at Alabama.
5. UCLA – Without their starting quarterback and given little chance to beat Cal, the Bruins remained perfect in the Pac-10 with a 30-21 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Summa Cum Lousy
Nebraska – Back for a return engagement at the top spot are the Huskers, which hardly got off the bus in a lifeless 36-14 loss to Texas A&M. At 4-4, Nebraska is in serious danger of missing the post-season for the second time in four years.
2. South Carolina – With an SEC East crown gradually coming into focus, the Gamecocks got suffocated by, of all teams, Vanderbilt, Steve Spurrier’s first career loss to the Commodores.
3. Tennessee – Losing to Alabama is bad enough for the Volunteer faithful. Losing by 24 to a Nick Saban-coached team is a nightmare that won’t make Phil Fulmer’s life any easier going forward.
4. Cal – Didn’t you used to be the favorite to win the Pac-10, like just over a week ago? The Bears lost to UCLA on Saturday, their second straight defeat, likely ending any hopes for a long-awaited return to Pasadena in January.
5. Minnesota – There’s no shame in losing to a really good North Dakota State team out of the FCS, but allowing 585 yards is unacceptable. You think the Minny administration recognizes that deposed head coach Glen Mason wasn’t so bad after all?
Offensive Coordinator of the Week: Major Applewhite, Alabama. In a signature win for Nick Saban in his new digs, the Tide offense gutted Tennessee for 510 yards and 41 points, season-highs since the opener with Western Carolina. Applewhite’s protégé, John Parker Wilson, enjoyed a career day, going 32-of-46 for 363 yards and three touchdown passes.
Defensive Coordinator of the Week: Bruce Fowler, Vanderbilt. Fowler’s defense was the reason that the Commodores were able to shock No. 6 South Carolina Saturday afternoon. Vandy held the Gamecocks to just a pair of field goals and 282 yards, sacking Chris Smelley and Blake Mitchell seven times and picking of three of their passes.
The three best hours of the weekend: Auburn at LSU. These days, if LSU is involved, you can pretty much consider the game must-see viewing. As expected, the two Tigers battled in a 60-minute war that wasn’t decided until Matt Flynn found Demetrius Byrd in the corner of the end zone with a few ticks left on the clock. That LSU head coach Les Miles nearly blew the game by not using his final timeout was a delicious sub plot that’ll be talked about for years to come.
The three most disappointing hours of the weekend: Texas Tech at Missouri. What happened to all of the fireworks that were promised for this game between two of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses? The Tigers did their part, but Graham Harrell threw four picks, and the Red Raiders were held well below their season average, losing in a real dud, 41-10.
If BCS invites went out today, the recipients would be … Boston College, Ohio State, LSU, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas, Connecticut, Oregon, West Virginia, and Florida. Hard as it is to fathom at this stage of the season, Connecticut and Kansas are the only unbeaten teams left in the Big East and Big 12, respectively. They displaced South Florida and South Carolina, both of whom were upset last weekend. With its victory over Kentucky, Florida moved back into the top 12 of the BCS, making it an appealing at-large candidate.
If Heisman votes were cast today, the winner would be …Florida QB Tim Tebow. Tebow displaces idle Matt Ryan of Boston College after carrying the Gators to a win over Kentucky, accounting for 334 yards and five touchdowns. There’s no denying that Tebow has been one of the four or five best players of 2007, but Florida fans remember all too well that Rex Grossman, also a sophomore at the time, finished runner-up to Eric Crouch in 2001, largely because some voters could not accept giving the award to a second-year player.
Who could have imagined … that after eight weeks, the lone Big East team without a conference loss would be Connecticut? In a league that houses West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers, and South Florida, the Huskies were a preseason afterthought, picked to finish seventh in an eight-team league. After upsetting the Cardinals on Friday, however, they’re on top of the league behind a no-name defense and a consistent running game.
Start buying shares in …West Virginia. Forgotten by some and written off by others after the South Florida loss, the Mountaineers have regrouped with routs of Syracuse and Mississippi State, while getting QB Patrick White back close to 100%. If they can win in Piscataway this week, 11 wins and a certain BCS bowl berth will help West Virginia fans forget that lone loss to the Bulls in September.
Start dumping …Boston College. Based on the buy-low, sell-high maxim in personal finance, right about now would be a good time to dump the No. 2 Eagles. Yeah, they’re one of only five unbeatens left in the country, but with Virginia Tech, Florida State, Maryland, Clemson, and Miami left on the regular season schedule, don’t expect that to last too much longer.
Bucking for a promotion: North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl. Bohl has the Bisons unbeaten and contending for a FCS national championship after coming from behind Saturday to beat Minnesota behind Tyler Roehl’s 263 yards rushing. Bohl was born in Lincoln, Nebr., played for Tom Osborne, and was an assistant at Nebraska from 1995-2002…just in case you were wondering about his background.
Needing a vote of confidence : Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. There’s a theory that Arizona ought to be patient with Stoops, a la Rutgers with Greg Schiano during the lean years. That theory held a little less water after the Wildcats lost to Stanford on Saturday, dropping to 2-6 and increasing the likelihood that they’ll finish 2007 in the Pac-10 hinterlands.
Can I be your agent …James Hardy? The Indiana receiver is very big, very good when the ball is in the air, and about to become a very wealthy young man. Against Penn State on Saturday, he caught 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, schooling Lion CB Justin King, who might want to strongly consider returning for his senior season in 2008.
Start designing the Fathead of …Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart. In his first game without tag-team partner Jeremiah Johnson, who’s out for the season, Stewart shredded the Washington defense for 251 yards and two scores on 32 carries. The oft-injured junior holds the key to the Ducks’ Pac-10 title hopes, needing to stay healthy down the stretch for an offense that’s been thinned by injuries over the last few weeks.
The Danny Almonte He-Can’t-Be-As-Young-As-He-Says Award : Penn State DE Maurice Evans. In Evans, the Nittany Lions have found their star pass rusher of the future in 2007. On Saturday afternoon, Indiana had no solution to stopping the sophomore, who had a career day, schooling Hoosier tackles for six tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The Jerry Falwell Moral Victory Award: Auburn. The Tigers entered Baton Rouge as 11-point underdogs, but left having earned the respect of LSU and just about everyone that watched this game. As it often does in SEC road games, Auburn battled all night and played well enough on defense to win, but fell short on a Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd touchdown pass in the final seconds.
It’s time to give more pub to… Kansas. One of just five unbeatens left in the country after beating Colorado, the Jayhawks are winning with offense, defense, and occasionally special teams. While no one is expecting a perfect season from Kansas, there isn’t a can’t-win game left on the schedule for a school that’s growing in confidence and has different heroes every weekend.
Message to … Miami and Florida State. Don’t ever go back to playing this game on Labor Day, like you did the last three years. With a half season to get ready, Saturday’s game was more entertaining and had more offense than in recent seasons. The national importance of the game may have been at a 25-year low, but the play on the field was far more appealing than it’s been of late.
This just in: Ohio State’s supposed close call with Michigan State on Saturday should not be viewed as a sign that the Buckeyes are on the brink of coming unglued. They controlled the game from start to finish, allowing just a field goal on defense, and only getting tested when two Todd Boeckman turnovers in the third quarter were returned for touchdowns.
Random thought with no heading: While we’ve all accepted for the past month that Notre Dame is in a deep rebuilding mode this year, shouldn’t the program be making progress, even if it doesn’t show up in the win-loss column? Eight games into the season, the Irish appeared to regress against a vulnerable USC squad, losing 38-0, its biggest loss in the storied history between these two schools.
Going wacky for John Mackey: Colorado TE Tyson DeVree. In a losing cause against Kansas, DeVree was outstanding for the Buffs on Saturday, catching a game-high seven passes for 90 yards and a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. He now has five touchdown catches, second to only Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham among Big 12 tight ends.
Non-BCS Player of the Week: Tulane RB Matt Forte. For the second time this season, Forte exploded for more than 300 yards in a game, gutting SMU for a school and Conference USA-record 348 yards and four scores on 38 carries. The effort helped the Green Wave to a 41-34 overtime win, and propelled the senior into the No. 1 spot among nation’s runners.
Non-BCS Team of the Week: Temple. Without much attention, the Owls have won three straight conference games for the first time since 1967. As an underdog on Saturday, Temple held off MAC East-leading Miami (OH), 24-17, staying alive in the division, while serving notice that Al Golden is slowing making an impressive impact in Philadelphia.
Stats Amore: Kansas State QB Josh Freeman went 36-of-51 for 404 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ loss to Oklahoma State. His favorite target was Jordy Nelson, who caught 12 passes for 176 yards and three scores.
UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 33 times for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the Knights’ win over Tulsa.
Toledo RB Jalen Parmele ran for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the Rockets’ defeat of Ohio .
Ohio RB Kalvin McRae ran for 182 yards and three scores in the Bobcats’ loss to Toledo.
Wake Forest WR Kenny Moore had 15 receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the Deacons’ win over Navy.
Virginia RB Mikell Simpson rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, and added 13 catches for 152 yards in the Cavs’ upset of Maryland.
Alabama QB John Parker Wilson finished 32-of-46 for 363 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide’s rout of Tennessee. ‘Bama WR D.J. Hall caught 13 of Wilson’s passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Texas A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane rammed his way to 130 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries in the Aggies’ blowout of Nebraska.
Nevada RB Luke Lippincott rushed 36 times for 241 yards and two scores in the Pack’s defeat of Utah State.
USC QB Mark Sanchez threw for 235 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-38 passing, as the Trojans beat Notre Dame.
Ohio State RB Chris Wells tore through the Michigan State defense for 221 yards and a score on 31 carries.
Kentucky QB Andre Woodson finished 35-of-50 for 415 yards and five touchdown passes, three to WR Dicky Lyons, in the ‘Cats’ loss to Florida.
UCLA CB Alterraun Verner had six tackles, three breakups, two tackles for loss and two picks, the last one going for a 76-yard score that ended Cal’s quest for a comeback.
Indiana WR James Hardy had 14 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Hoosiers’ loss to Penn State.
Start clearing next week’s schedule for… USC at Oregon. Is the Pac-10 torch about to be passed from the Trojans to one of the other league teams that’s eagerly pining for a trip to Pasadena? Oregon believes that it’s time to end USC’s five-year headlock on the conference, so expect an insane atmosphere in Eugene on Saturday. The high-octane Ducks offense versus the Trojans’ star-studded defense is one of those games-within-the-game that should not be missed.
E-mail Richard Cirminiello