Summa Cum Laude – Clemson – In arguably the best performance of the Tommy Bowden era, Clemson absolutely dominated No. 13 Georgia Tech before a deliriously orange home crowd.
The Tiger offensive line was brilliant, blowing open 338 yards worth of holes for the dynamic running combination of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Spiller's coming-out-party in front of a national TV audience was the exclamation point in a perfectly orchestrated performance by the Tigers.
2. Michigan State – Down 38-3 to Northwestern, the Spartans rallied in the second-half for the biggest comeback in college football history. Drew Stanton was a warrior, giving hope for a December bowl game, while lending a much-needed boost to beleaguered head coach John L. Smith.
3. Western Michigan LB Ameer Ismail – The Broncos wanted to get pressure on Ball State quarterbacks Saturday afternoon in Muncie. Check. Ismail recorded six sacks, tying Elvis Dumervil's NCAA mark, to go along with 13 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown.
4. Baylor QB Shawn Bell – Bell rallied Baylor from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas, throwing for a Bear-record 394 yards and five touchdowns, three in the final 9:22 to pull out the stunning victory.
5. Rutgers – When will Rutgers' Cinderella joy ride end? Who knows? They were supposed to succumb to red-hot Pitt at Heinz Field, but instead, suffocated Tyler Palko with five sacks, equaling the number the Panthers had allowed in the first seven games combined.
Summa Cum Lousy – Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson – Yeah, he was doubled and his quarterback wasn't 100%, but the only thing anyone will remember about Saturday's game with Clemson is that Johnson was shutout for the first time in his Tech career. Not a single catch in the biggest game of the season.
2. Northwestern – Up 38-3 early in the third quarter and seemingly on its way to breaking a four-game losing streak, the Wildcats completely collapsed, becoming the first team in I-A history to lose a game when up by 35 points.
3. Air Force – With a chance to remain atop the Mountain West heading into this week's showdown with BYU, the Falcons became San Diego State's first victim of 2006.
4. Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe – For the second straight week, the nation's leading rusher was muzzled by a really bad defense. Against the same Temple team that's 118th nationally stopping the run, Wolfe could only manage 45 yards on 17 carries.
5. Florida State – Bet you didn't think you'd ever see the day that the Noles occupied the basement of the ACC Atlantic. After losing at home to Boston College in an ugly performance, Florida State is 4-3 and completely out of the league race.
Offensive Coordinator of the Week – Mike Levenseller, Washington State –Maligned all year for its feeble play, the Wazzu offense finally caught up with the defense, helping lead the program to a statement upset of Oregon. The Cougars got a pair of touchdown passes and just three incompletions from sporadic QB Alex Brink and a career-high 145 yards on the ground from sophomore Dwight Tardy in the 34-23 victory.
Defensive Coordinator of the Week – Vic Koenning, Clemson – The Tigers created up field pressure all night, holding Georgia Tech to a fluky touchdown reception and only 238 yards of total offense. Oh yeah, Koenning's also have the distinction of being the only defense on the planet to hold All-American WR Calvin Johnson without a catch.
In theory, the prevent defense makes sense—keep the play in front of the secondary, while forcing the opposition to burn through a ton of clock with dump offs and short routes. In reality, it's often the trailing team's best chance for victory. Witness the UCLA game, which the Bruins dominated defensively until they got soft on Notre Dame's final drive. The pressure that Brady Quinn felt all afternoon was non-existent, allowing the Irish to navigate 80 yards in just 35 seconds for the win. That said, Jeff Samardzija, who hauled in the game-winner, continues to be one of the game's most lethal receivers after the catch.
Very quietly, Wisconsin is emerging as a really solid football team that's an upset in Iowa City on Nov. 11 from going 11-1. P.J. Hill and John Stocco continue to channel Ron Dayne and Darrell Bevell, respectively, while the defense has been sensational, but be sure to save some credit for the 7-1 start for Barry Alvarez. Yeah, yeah, he laid the foundation for the program years ago, but it was his decision to name Bret Bielema the head coach before the start of the 2005 season that's helped make his first-season as the head man such a smooth transition from being the Badgers' defensive coordinator.
To understand the importance of takeaways in football, all you had to was watch the final few minutes of the entertaining game between Texas and Nebraska. With 2:17 left and the Huskers about to ice the clock, Longhorn S Aaron Ross separated Terrence Nunn from the ball, allowing teammate Marcus Griffin to make the recovery. On the ensuing drive, which would end with a game-winning field goal from walk-on Ryan Bailey, Texas WR Quan Cosby coughed the ball up, but offensive lineman Kasey Studdard alertly pounced on the ball. In the final 157 seconds, the ‘Horns won the turnover margin 1-0 to become the last Big 12 team unbeaten in league play.
On the game's final play, Duke came within a few yards from upsetting Miami at Wallace Wade Stadium, another chapter in the Canes' season of discontent. Even short-handed, had Miami lost to the lowly Blue Devils, Larry Coker might have raced across the field with a helmet and started beating some of his defensive players...and, really, who would have blamed the down-trodden head coach?
With the departures of senior QB D.J. Shockley and three offensive linemen, expectations were low for the Georgia offense in 2006. The defense, however, has been one of October's disappointments, allowing 99 points in losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt and Saturday's narrow home escape with 2-6 Mississippi State. That's too many points for a unit that features a large handful of future NFL players.
Missouri's first win over Kansas State since 1992 sent a clear signal to the rest of the Big 12 that the Tigers are not going away in 2006. Mizzou could have been flat after losing for the first time last week, but instead ended the ‘Cats 13-game wining streak in this series behind an increasingly familiar formula, the passing of Chase Daniel and the play of the ball-hawking defense. Nebraska's loss to Texas means the Nov. 4 game between the Tigers and the Huskers will likely decide the North champion.
If you're looking to champion one Wolverine on your Heisman ballot, choose Mike Hart over Chad Henne. Hart proved again on Saturday why he's the MVP of the Michigan offense, grinding out 126 yards and two scores on 31 tough carries to help Michigan out last Iowa and stay unbeaten. Henne and the Wolverines have obviously missed WR Mario Manningham the last two weekends, but Hart has made sure the offense has done just enough to get the wins.
Kudos to Washington State for knocking Oregon out of the Pac-10 race, while unexpectedly moving into the league's first division. The number of yards the defense surrendered paints an inaccurate picture of how well it played. The Cougars kept the high-powered Duck offense out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter, when the outcome had already long been decided.
For now, Troy Smith is making sure that this year's Heisman race lacks intrigue, but next year's competition is just heating up. West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Pat White, Rutgers' Ray Rice, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Clemson's James Davis, Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Boise State's Ian Johnson may not win in 2006, but each is spending this fall auditioning in front of voters for the 2007 and 2008 awards. With the exception of Hill, who's a redshirt freshman, the group is comprised entirely of sophomores, which will all be back next year with the head start in national recognition that didn't fully exist before this season began.
You get the feeling that the winner of the Nov. 2 game between West Virginia and Louisville is going to lose a game to Rutgers or Pittsburgh? Yeah, me too. Neither the Mountaineers nor the Cardinals have looked invincible in a long, long time, and with all the hype being given next Thursday's mega-tilt, you have to wonder if both teams will spend the month of November coming down from the high of that game.
Whatever happened to that resurgence North Carolina State was about to undergo after beating Boston College and Florida State? Since upsetting the ‘Noles, the Pack has lost to Wake Forest and Maryland, settling back into its old familiar state of mediocrity. With Chuck Amato on the sidelines, this program is always capable of shocking a ranked team, but sustained excellence will forever escape it.
The Terps, on the other hand, are quietly 5-2 and an upset away from sneaking into the rear end of the Top 25. This is not a great football team, and the second-half schedule is brutal, however, one more win gets Maryland to a bowl, which is what Ralph Friedgen needs to instill a little confidence back into the program.
With games left against Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Middle Tennessee State and Clemson, South Carolina could wind up facing the SEC East, SEC West, Sun Belt and ACC champs before the end of the 2006 season.
The Using-School-Funds-Wisely Award for 2006 goes to Northern Illinois, which refrained from spending money to hype Garrett Wolfe for the Heisman, when he was at his peak in popularity a few weeks ago. Head coach Joe Novak remembers getting left with excess inventory after the school increased its marketing budget for Michael Turner three years ago, and didn't want to get burned again. Shrewd move. Wolfe's been held to just 70 yards and no scores the last two weeks, essentially ending his Heisman bid.
The Using-School-Funds-Poorly Award for 2006 goes to Kansas, which gave head coach Mark Mangino a contract extension through 2010, which nearly tripled his annual salary to $1.5 million. Huh? Was there that much of an urgency to lock up a coach that's now 22-34 in his Jayhawk career, losing his fourth straight Saturday after his team completely collapsed to Baylor in the fourth quarter.
Maybe the time hasn't come for Texas Tech's Mike Leach to bench Graham Harrell in favor of freshman Chris Todd after all. Harrell broke out of a mini-slump at the expense of the Iowa State defense, tossing six touchdown passes in a near perfect 31-of-40 afternoon in Ames.
Texas A&M has a genuine winner in QB Stephen McGee that it can build around for the next two seasons. The sophomore continued to play well late in tight games, leading the Aggies to their seventh victory with a game-tying drive that culminated with a touchdown pass with three ticks left. McGee was sharp in the passing game and also led the Aggies with 86 yards on 17 carries.
After last week's meltdown against Boston College, Virginia Tech got the crisp effort it desperately needed against Southern Miss. Clemson and Miami are up next, meaning the Hokies are still mathematically alive for the ACC's Coastal division if last Saturday's win winds up being a turning point in the season.
For just the third time in school history, Central Michigan is 5-0 in MAC play, jumping out to an unexpected lead in the Western Division. That's great news for a program that hasn't won a league title in 12 years and was picked to finish in the bottom half of the division before the season began. Or not. The flip side of success is that young head coach Brian Kelly might be bucking for a promotion after leading the Chips to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991.
Ditto Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe, whose work bringing the Golden Hurricane to the top of Conference USA has not been lost on BCS programs. He's a tremendous executive and offensive tactician that would do very well at a larger school or as an NFL head coach.
New Mexico has found the silver lining in Kole McKamey's season-ending injury, the emergence of freshman Donovan Porterie as the program's quarterback of the future. Yeah, he's still predictably raw, but he's also lit a fire under the Lobo offense, guiding it to 73 points in two games, highlighted by last week's 34-31 comeback win over Utah.
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