Battle in Lubbock highlights Big 12, Pac-10 story lines

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Well, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

In week two, I predicted Florida State to pound an Oklahoma team that barely beat Utah State in week one. As it turned out, Oklahoma was the one giving the beating and, in case you were wondering, the Seminole Kool-Aid was delicious, thank you.

This week, there are significantly fewer high-profile games, but don’t confuse quantity with quality. There are some great matchups on hand and it’ll be interesting to see how some of these play out.

No. 6 Texas at Texas Tech (8:00 ET)

THE LINE: Texas -3.5

THE PLOT: The last time the Longhorns went to Lubbock, the Red Raiders threw their way to a thrilling 39-33 upset. This time around, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty on both sides as to how this game will play out. Tech is breaking in a new coaching staff and has yet to face a major test. Texas will be starting its third running back (Fozzy Whittaker) in as many weeks.

Mack Brown and staff insist they’ve been keeping the offensive play-calling vanilla. We have another phrase for it: identity issues. However, Tech’s secondary showed some weaknesses against SMU’s pass-happy run-and-shoot offense.

THE PICK: This one’s difficult. Texas has a better defense and is loaded with talent, but Lubbock at night can be a thorn in anyone’s side. Texas pulls this one out late.

THE SCORE: Texas 27, Texas Tech 24

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No. 8 Nebraska at Washington (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Nebraska -3

THE PLOT: Nebraska is ranked in the AP Top 10, but this game could honestly go either way. Jake Locker is great, but he will need his supporting cast to step up against a good Husker defense. Heading into 2010, Nebraska’s offense was a big question mark, but with the emergence of Taylor Martinez (Nebraska’s own ‘shoelace’), this offense has suddenly become more dynamic.

With that said, Washington is a tough road environment and I think Steve Sarkisian’s team comes pumped.

THE PICK:  It’s a tight, low-scoring and potentially sloppy game, but Washington pulls the upset.

THE SCORE: Washington 16, Nebraska 14

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No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona (10:30 ET)

THE LINE: Iowa -1.5

THE PLOT: There are lofty expectations for both schools, but let’s be honest, neither of them have proved anything in the first two weeks. It seems like every year is “The year Arizona makes a push in the Pac-10 for the Rose Bowl.” But every six months later the Wildcats come one or two games shy of making it to The Granddaddy of Them All. For coach Mike Stoops, it’s time for his team to start proving it on the field. 

Iowa appears to be in contention to win a Big Ten title, but they’ll need a solid road victory to further push their campaign. They also need to win in such a way that doesn’t induce heart attacks on the elderly, a la the last minute of every game.

THE PICK: Iowa is too much as Arizona shows, yet again, they can’t win the big games when it counts.

THE SCORE: Iowa 28, Arizona 20

Coaches poll sees minimal movement after routine weekend

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Without much drama around the country this weekend in college football, there were very few changes seen in this week’s updated Amway Coaches Poll. While three teams dropped out to make some room for some fresh faces at the bottom of the poll, the top 12 remained unchanged from last week. No. 1 Alabama remains atop the coaches poll with all 64 first-place votes cast in their favor.

A few schools making some movement of note this week included No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 18 LSU moving up two and three spots, respectively. No. 20 Stanford also moved up three places this week. The biggest drop within the top 25 this week was taken by No. 21 Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys falling eight spots after a home loss to Kansas State. The Wildcats remain unranked in this week’s coaches poll.

Michigan, NC State, and West Virginia each fell out of the top 25 this week following their respective losses. That made room for No. 23 Northwestern, No. 24 Boise State, and No. 25 Virginia Tech.

Here is this week’s full coaches poll:

  1. Alabama (64 first-place votes)
  2. Miami
  3. Clemson
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio State
  9. Notre Dame
  10. USC
  11. Penn State
  12. UCF
  13. TCU
  14. Washington
  15. Washington State
  16. Memphis
  17. Mississippi State
  18. LSU
  19. USF
  20. Stanford
  21. Oklahoma State
  22. Michigan State
  23. Northwestern
  24. Boise State
  25. Virginia Tech

Defending national champion James Madison takes No. 1 seed in FCS playoffs

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Last week the playoff field for Division 2 and Division 3 was set, and we are still two weeks away from learning what four teams will compete in the fourth College Football Playoff. Today it was the FCS playoff field that was unveiled for the first time. Not surprisingly, defending national champion James Madison, the top-ranked team in FCS, took the top spot in the 24-team field.

At 11-0, it was expected the Dukes would be the number one overall seed. The Colonial Athletic Association champions are in the FCS playoffs for a fourth-straight season. The number two seed is a familiar name to those following FCS football. North Dakota State (10-1) took the second overall seed in the playoff field. The five-time national champs remains a force to reckon with once again and will hope to get a shot at playoff revenge against James Madison in this year’s championship game. It was James Madison that eliminated the Bison from the postseason last year with a 27-17 upset in the semifinals.

JMU went on to top Bo Pelini and Youngstown State in the championship game after the unseeded Penguins went on a miraculous run to the championship game. Youngstown State had taken out the No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (40-24) and No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (40-38) before falling against the No. 4 seeded Dukes. Youngstown State did not reach the postseason this year.

Jacksonville State takes the three-seed, followed by Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Wofford and Southern Utah. Other automatic entrants through conference championship automatic qualifiers include Kennesaw State, Central Connecticut State, Lehigh, and San Diego. At-large teams making the field include Northern Arizona, Weber State, Monmouth, Elon, New Hampshire, Stony Brook, South Dakota, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Furman, Samford, and Nicholls State.

You can view the full bracket HERE.

Kyle Whittingham attempts to defend bizarre timeout decision that doomed Utes vs. Washington

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If you went to bed a little early on Saturday night then the chances are pretty good you missed one of the more baffling coaching decisions of the season. With Washington and Utah tied at 30-30 after the Huskies battled back in the second half, Washington received the football with under a minute to play. Washington seemed to be playing for overtime with a short run to keep the clock rolling when Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham called a timeout. This gave Washington head coach Chris Petersen a chance to change the mindset on his sideline and go for the win before overtime, and it led to a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Whittingham essentially gave Washington a chance to win the Huskies had no intention of playing for in regulation, and it may end up costing Utah a spot in a postseason bowl game. After the game, Whittingham defended his decision-making by saying he was attempting to be aggressive, suggesting that if Washington really was playing for overtime, they would have taken a knee.

“You’d have to ask Chris that. But if they were not being aggressive they would have taken a knee,” Whittingham explained. “What’s the point in running a play if they’re not going to try to at least maneuver into field goal range. So we called timeout, had them in decent field position, second and eight or second and nine, and one incomplete pass and another timeout if they decide to run the ball. So it was a long shot, but we’re just trying to win and it obviously didn’t work out.

Here’s the play where Utah called the timeout. It sure seemed as though Washington had no real intention of playing for a field goal unless Utah made a huge mistake, which as it turned out they did,

Whittingham had no legitimate reason to call for the timeout and admitted it was a decision he would take back given the hindsight of knowing how the game would eventually end.

“In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have called the timeout,” Whittingham said. “But at the time, we were just trying to be aggressive and get the ball back to a guy who has about a sixty-yard range field goal wise.”

Petersen said after the game they were merely trying to run Myles Gaskin to see if there would be a crack or a big play. That never developed, but the timeout changed the situation for Washington. Petersen, not one to go out and trash an opposing coach over a questionable decision that benefits him, said he understood what Whittingham was trying to do.

“We wanted to run the ball and see if we could pop through with Myles and maybe get a 10-yard run,” Petersen said. “I get what Kyle was trying to do. You have to play aggressive in these situations.”

No, you do not.

There is a time to play with aggression, but this was not the time. Washington was settling on playing overtime, and Whittingham overthought the situation and got burned by it.

Josh Rosen gets the stats, Sam Darnold the win as No. 11 USC tops crosstown rival UCLA

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UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen grabbed all the gaudy stats, but USC signal-caller Sam Darnold managed the win.

The primetime battle of potential No. 1 overall picks in next year’s NFL Draft didn’t quite live up to the hype for fans or scouts alike, but the No. 11 Trojans completed their regular season on Saturday night with a hard-fought 28-23 win over their crosstown rivals at the L.A. Coliseum in a contest that was far from the shootout that was expected coming in.

Darnold had his moments behind center and flashed several reasons why NFL front office types are so enamored with him, hitting some nice touch passes over the middle and scrambling for numerous big plays outside of the pocket. The numbers weren’t quite up to his season standards with 264 yards through the air and no touchdowns but the redshirt sophomore did find the end zone on a scramble.

That he scored on the ground probably wasn’t too surprising given that UCLA is the worst rushing defense in the country but every yard had to be earned in the chippy rivalry game between the two schools 15 miles from each other. Running back Ronald Jones didn’t see as many carries as you would expect down the stretch but managed 122 yards and two scores to keep the chains moving on a pretty consistent basis.

The best play for the cardinal and gold might have actually come on special teams, as Michael Pittman used a little misdirection on a punt return to scoot 72 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and the game’s first points.

As good as USC was at times on the night, they didn’t runaway with the win like many expected for a team on the fringes of playoff contention. A lot of that had to do with Rosen, who again kept his side in things with a 421 yard outing with three touchdowns and a pick — numbers that could have been even better if not for a few plays here or there. That aerial attack helped open things up for a normally dormant ground game, with Soso Jamabo rushing for 62 yards and Bolo Olorunfunmi adding another 56.

It wasn’t enough to bring the Victory Bell back to Westwood however, as the annual trophy will remain just south of downtown for the eighth time in the past decade. The Bruins still have a shot at going to a bowl game if they can beat fellow in-state rival Cal next weekend but their margin for error to reach the postseason is still incredibly slim given how improved the Bears are this year.

The Trojans meanwhile, finally get some well deserved rest after capping off an 8-1 campaign in conference play and a perfect record in the division. After a week of rest — the first of the year since they had no bye week — they’ll head to the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium for a rematch with either Stanford or Washington State. The team remains way outside looking in with regards to the College Football Playoff chase at the moment but after a third straight win over their crosstown rival, that probably is the furthest thing on their minds as another picture perfect night in Los Angeles comes to a close.