As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.
Four-pack separates themselves
While there is still myriad uncertainty as it pertains to several aspects of the 2012 season, one thing crystallized itself in Week 8: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Kansas State are head and shoulders above anyone else in the nation this season, and any combination of the two could very well find themselves in Miami vying for the right to hoist the crystal at season’s end. In the games involving those teams this weekend, the undisputed top four teams in the country rambled over, around and through their opponents by a combined score of 186-59. While it appears in the here and now clear how this quartet stacks up against the rest of the college football world, the final few weeks are fraught with potential scheduling landmines:
Alabama: No. 15 Mississippi State (Oct. 27); at No. 6 LSU (Nov. 3); No. 20 Texas A&M (Nov. 10); and the annual Iron Bowl game with Auburn (Nov. 24)
Oregon: at No. 11 USC (Nov. 3); No. 22 Stanford (Nov. 17); and the annual Civil War game at No. 8 Oregon State (Nov. 24)
Florida: No. 13 Georgia (Oct. 27); and No. 12 Florida State (Nov. 24)
Kansas State: No. 18 Texas Tech (Oct. 27); at No. 23 (in BcS standings) TCU (Nov. 10); and No. 25 (in BcS standings) Texas (Dec. 1).
Certainly if any of those teams navigate those obstacles without a misstep, they deserve a shot at a BcS title. If three of those teams — Alabama and Florida would hypothetically meet in the SEC championship game — continue traveling the unbeaten path, and are possibly joined by an undefeated Notre Dame team? The uproar from the two/three snubbed fan bases as well as the media would be deafening and drown out any other college football-related discussion… especially if a one-loss Tide/Gator team faced an unbeaten Tide/Gator team in what would be the second straight all-SEC BcS title game.
Daniel Rodriguez, American hero
If you don’t know the story of Daniel Rodriguez, you’re missing out. The Clemson wide receiver served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Bronze Star as well as being awarded a Purple Heart. After leaving the Army, Rodriguez decided to resume his dream of playing college football and, after his video was viewed by Dabo Swinney, Rodriguez came to the Tigers as a walk-on this season. As it so happens, Saturday was Military Appreciation Day in No. 14 Clemson’s version of Death Valley and Rodriguez, hoisting an American flag high, led his teammates out onto the field for their game against Virginia Tech in a scene that left goosebumps far and wide. Afterward, Swinney talked of the pride he felt being a part of such a wonderfully uplifting story.
“What a privilege it was to be part of a day like this,” the coach said in quotes distributed by the school. “It’s special to experience it with Daniel Rodriguez. His presence has helped the team, and he never forces his leadership. It has really made the team appreciate our military and realize that there are a lot more problems in the world than our third down conversion rate.
“Rodriguez’s career started with a video and hard work ethic. I can’t imagine what is going through his head comparing where he was three years ago to where he was today. It was a special day and I was proud to be an observer. The Valley has been coming alive and I know Daniel felt that today.”
U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!
Changing of the Heisman guard?
For the first six weeks of the season, Geno Smith of No. 17 West Virginia was the unquestioned leader in the front-nine clubhouse for the 2012 Heisman. The past two weeks? It’s exactly why the stiff-armed trophy is awarded in mid-December and not mid-October. For the first time since December 1, 2011 — a span of 272 passes — Smith threw an interception, a pick by Kansas State’s Arthur Brown that served as a symbolic passing of the Heisman torch as Collin Klein converted the turnover into a 21-yard touchdown pass. It was just a small part of a performance that, when combined with his team’s unbeaten start to the season, likely nudged Klein slightly ahead of the Heisman pack, although supporters of Alabama’s AJ McCarron and USC’s Matt Barkley could make very persuasive cases as well. On this day, though, it was all about Klein as the senior accounted for a career-high seven touchdowns — four rushing, three passing — and 364 yards of total offense. For the season, Klein has accounted for 24 total touchdowns. While Klein doesn’t possess the garish passing statistics that’s become the norm — he’s thrown for just over 1,300 yards on the season — he’s the unquestioned heart and soul and quarterback of one of the top teams in the country. The “Kleinsman” talk has bubbled just below the surface all season long; following this performance on national television, expect that chatter to boil over in the coming days and weeks.
The Big East
Well would ya look at that; Big East football is all grown up. Through eight weeks of the season, there are 11 unbeaten teams at the FBS level. Unbelievably, at least based on recent precedent, the Big East accounts for two of those — No. 19 Rutgers and No. 16 Louisville. Both schools held serve over the weekend, although not by much; the Cardinals needed a touchdown in the final two minutes to upend USF 27-25 while the Scarlet Knights overcame a 10-o deficit to pull away with a 35-10 win over Temple. The Cardinals and Knights, incidentally, face each other Nov. 29 in the regular-season finale for both schools. It wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows on the weekend for the conference, however, as the third unbeaten team entering the Week 8, No. 21 Cincinnati, dropped a non-conference game to Toledo. Still, from where the Big East has been, 2012 has been a year of significant progress for the once-woebegone league.
Shhh, don’t look now but there’s an under-the-radar spoiler creeping around Big 12 country. Coming off a woodshedding of then-No. 5 and previously unbeaten West Virginia last weekend, No. 18 Texas Tech traveled to TCU to take on the No. 21 (in the coaches’ poll) Horned Frogs. Four quarters and three overtimes later, the Red Raiders headed back to Lubbock with a thrilling 56-53 win. Thus, more than halfway through the 2012 season, Tech sits at 3-1 in conference play, tied with Oklahoma and just a game behind unbeaten Kansas State. And, speaking of the Wildcats, guess where the Red Raiders travel to next week? That’s right, a trip to Manhattan is in the offing, with firm control of the Big 12 race within Tech’s grasp — provided the Sooners, which handed the Red Raiders their lone loss of the season, trips up before the end of the season, of course.
Putting Little Brother streak to bed
Michigan State has held the bragging rights in the state of Michigan — and on the ever-important recruiting trail — the past four years on the strength of four straight wins over “Big Brother” Michigan. 1,812 days later, the bragging rights have returned to Ann Arbor. While it may have been a game only the mother of a rivalry could’ve loved, the No. 23 Wolverines gutted out a 12-10 win that featured four UM field goals, including a 38-yarder with five seconds left that lifted the Wolverines past the Spartans for the first time since Nov. 4, 2007. More importantly, at least as far as this season is concerned, the win kept the Wolverines perfect at 3-0 in Big Ten play and, with Iowa’s loss to Penn State, atop the Legends’ division.
College Station on Bayou lockdown
No. 20 Texas A&M came into Saturday’s game with No. 6 LSU ranked fifth and sixth in the country in scoring and total offense, respectively. Outside of Florida, though, they hadn’t faced a defense quite like the Tigers. And it showed. In the 24-19 loss, the Aggies were held 28 points and 130-plus yards under their seasonal averages as A&M dropped to 2-2 in SEC play. The fact that the Tigers’ defense forced five Aggie turnovers didn’t hurt, either. Despite an anemic passing attack that gained just 97 yards through the air, the Tigers have positioned itself well for, after a bye weekend, back-to-back games against No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Mississippi State that will determine the West’s representative in the SEC championship game in early December.
The Mighty (first-half) Ducks
In the second half of games this season, Oregon has outscored its competition by a total of “just” 28 points spread out over the first seven games. In the first two quarters? Roll Ducks roll. In the first half of games this season, UO is averaging 33.4 points; entering Week 8, that’s more than 86 FBS teams average for an entire game. Thursday night’s 43-21 woodshedding of Arizona State was a microcosm of that first-half dominance as the Ducks rushed for 329 yards through the first 30 minutes of the game; that two-quarter total is more than Washington State (284) and Tulane (113) had gained all season. In other words, the Oregon-Alabama BcS title game is gonna be one hell of a show pitting the immovable object that is the Tide’s defense against the irresistible force that is the Ducks’ running game.
Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!
All you need to know about Duke football is that it had not qualified for a bowl game since Bill Clinton was in the second year of his first term in the White House — until Saturday. Yes, the Blue Devils, 18 years later, are bowl-eligible again, a development made all the sweeter as it came at the expense of in-state rival North Carolina. And a bowl game might not be the only postseason action for the Blue Devils. Thanks to Miami’s loss to Florida State, Duke is the ACC Coastal leader at 3-1. The biggest problem for the Blue Devils making a run for an ACC title game appearance? The schedule, which consists of Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. Hey, at least there’s a bowl game to look forward to. Enjoy it, Duke. You’ve earned it.
Free fall in God’s country
On Oct. 6, West Virginia was on top of the proverbial football mountain, unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country in its first season in the Big 12. Two weeks later, the bottom has officially fallen out for the Mountaineers and their dream season has been reduced to a burnt-out, smoldering pile of ruins. In back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State, WVU has given up 104 points and allowed 1,155 yards of offense. The defensive struggles are not exactly breaking news items; the struggles on offense are. The once high-octane attack has sputtered to a near halt, relatively speaking, totaling just 28 points and 651 yards. That’s seven points less than they scored in the first half of the win over Baylor Oct. 6, and 156 yards fewer than they had in that entire game. WVU’s free fall has been a mystery, if for nothing more than the offense’s inability to outscore its woeful defense’s ineptitude.
And then there were none
Maryland (?!?!) entered Week 8 as the ACC’s only unbeaten team in conference play. Exiting the weekend? That number has fallen to zero as the Terps dropped a 20-18 decision to North Carolina State. The loss not only dropped the Terps from the ranks of the conference unbeatens, it dropped Randy Edsall‘s squad into a third-place tie with NCSU (2-1) and behind Florida State (4-1) and Clemson (3-1) in the Atlantic division. The ACC also became the only one of the 11 conferences at the FBS level without an unbeaten team in league play.
When a win is a loss
Potentially. Yes, No. 7 Ohio State showed tremendous intestinal fortitude in tying Purdue with :03 left and winning the game in overtime, preserving a perfect start to the Urban Meyer‘s OSU tenure. It could, though, prove to be costly. Star quarterback Braxton Miller was injured very late in the third quarter and was taken to a local Columbus medical center for further treatment. If Miller is out for an extended period of time — while the school said he was “symptom-free,” it’s still unclear what if any time he’ll miss — with him would go a sizable chunk of the Buckeyes’ offense. Miller has scored 21 — 11 passing, 10 rushing — of the Buckeyes’ 39 offensive touchdowns this season. He also leads OSU in rushing with 959 yards.
Stay classy, Iowa fans
Here was the scene outside of Kinnick Stadium prior to the Penn State-Iowa game, courtesy of OnwardState:
Awesome. How original, dressing as a convicted serial pedophile in “support” of your Hawkeyes. Your school, and your parents, should be very, very proud.
Big 2012 doughnut
Eastern Michigan, Southern Miss and UMass entered Week 8 as the only winless teams at the FBS level, with each losing their first six games of the 2012 season. Two of those schools remain in the running for The Full Tyrone Monty as the Golden Eagles fell 59-24 to Marshall while the Minutemen were shutout 24-0 by Bowling Green. USM and UMass aren’t likely close to breaking through, either, losing by an average of 19.4 and 28.8 points per game, respectively, in their collective 14 losses. It wasn’t a completely lost night for the trio, however, as EMU secured its first win of the season, a 48-38 triumph over one-win Army.
So not bro, bro
Every week as part of its GameDay show, ESPN brings in a guest picker with ties to the campus on which the show is televised, although we’d argue that, based on his performance earlier this season, Hootie should be named the permanent guest picker. Be that as it may, and as GameDay was in Gainesville for the South Carolina-Florida game, the guest picker this week was UF grad Ryan Lochte. When it came time to pick the winner of the LSU-Texas A&M game, the multiple Olympic medal-winning swimmer picked… Auburn? Yep, Lochte picked the Tigers, and not the Bayou Bengals kind either. As Adam from Kegs-N-Eggs explained it via Twitter, “BRO. Brooooooo. Bro. BRohohohooooo.” Yep, that sums up Lochte in general and his gaffe in particular.
TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents
— No. 5 Notre Dame 17, BYU 14: Heading into the matchup with their fellow football independent, many an observer had labeled this as a trap game with Oklahoma looming on the horizon for the Irish. The Domers made those individuals look like veritable Norman Einsteins in falling behind 14-7 at the half before rallying for what was its fourth win by seven or fewer points this season.
— No. 7 Ohio State 29, Purdue 22 — The Buckeyes appeared to be sleepwalking through three-plus quarters before scoring a touchdown with three seconds left that, along with a successful two-point conversion, sent the game into overtime. OSU, ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions, is the Big Ten’s only undefeated team.
— No. 8 Oregon State 21, Utah 7: The Beavers simply don’t blow the doors off their opposition. In five of their six wins, OSU has won by a total of 40 points. Their biggest margin of victory was a 42-24 decision over BYU in which they were tied at 21 through three quarters.
— No. 13 Georgia 29, Kentucky 24: We’ll just go ahead and chalk this one up to the Bulldogs looking ahead to next week’s monumentally massive showdown with Florida.
— No. 16 Louisville 27, USF 25: Were it not for a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, the Big East would be looking at a lone unbeaten member of its conference eight weeks in. The Cardinals are a young group, though, and these close games should serve them well in the second half of the season and even into the 2013 campaign.
— No. 23 Michigan 12, Michigan State: When bitter in-state rivals take the field, records and rankings are tossed right out the window. Regardless of how unattractive it may have been, the Wolverines will take ending a four-game losing streak to Little Brother any day of the week and twice on Saturdays.
CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.
1. Alabama — The Tide has yet to be tested this season, in part because of their own dominance and in part because of a schedule that’s consisted mainly of tasty pastries. Doesn’t matter, though; Alabama passes any and all smell/look/sound test that can be given. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: vs. No. 15 Mississippi State
2. Oregon — Like Alabama, the Ducks have yet to be truly tested. That will change as dates with ranked teams such as USC, Stanford and the annual Civil War with Oregon State on tap their final five games. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: vs. Colorado
4. Kansas State — The Wildcats are arguably the only team in the country that can come close to matching the Tide’s across-the-board excellence in execution in all three phases of the game, although I’d listen to someone stating the case for the Ducks as well. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: vs. No. 18 Texas Tech
5. Oregon State — If both teams continue down the unbeaten path, it’ll be a Civil War for the ages in late November. (Last week: No. 5)
Up next: @ Washington
COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.
— Auburn’s Gene Chizik: The Tigers have lost seven straight games in SEC play dating back to last year, including all five this season. Since winning the BcS title following the 2010 season, AU is just 9-11; AU’s opponent in that game, Oregon, is 19-2 in that same span. Suffice to say, the clock is ticking on Chizik’s tenure on The Plains and, with the program’s worst start since 1952 in the books, it’s hard to see the fourth-year coach seeing the AU sidelines for a fifth year in 2013.
— Cal’s Jeff Tedford: Just 15-18 the past three seasons, including Saturday’s embarrassing 21-3 loss to Stanford in their newly-refurbished stadium. In fact, the Bears have lost the past three Big Games, and are just 3-4 in that rivalry game the past seven seasons. The murmurs have been there since millions of dollars were poured into the football program’s facilities: win, or else. At 3-5 on the season, that “or else” could very well include a one-way ticket to the unemployment line at season’s end for Tedford.
— Tennessee’s Derek Dooley: And, by popular demand… HEEEEEERE’S DEREK! And for good reason. For a program as storied and steeped in tradition as the Vols, what’s transpired over the past two-plus seasons is simply unacceptable. In that span, UT is just 4-16 in SEC play, including Saturday’s home whooping at the hands of No. 1 Alabama. The Vols have won just one SEC game in its last 12 attempts, an overtime win over Vanderbilt in mid-November last season. Add it all up, and Dooley and his orange pants will likely find themselves on the outside of Knoxville looking in when the final gun sounds on the 2012 season.
PHOTO OF THE DAY, NON-RODRIGUEZ DIVISION
Seeing as I’m hurtling through middle age and straight toward the old-age precipice, I’m not a big fan at all of the current trend of football programs all across the country looking to the Arena Football League for uniform fashion tips. One of the rare exceptions? The orange Pistol Pete-themed helmets Oklahoma State donned against Iowa State:
YOU DON’T SAY?
From ESPN Stats & Info: This season, Ohio State has given up five touchdowns of 50-plus yards. Between 2007 and 2011, the Buckeyes gave up just two such plays, the fewest in the FBS over that span.
FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY
— A total of 12 teams — Florida State, Clemson, Duke, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Kent State, Boise State, Oregon State, USC, Georgia, Utah State and Louisiana Tech — became bowl eligible this weekend, upping the number to 28 on the season. 18 of those are from so-called BcS conferences, nine from non-BcS leagues. Notre Dame as a football independent is the 28th.
— Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron passed for a career-high 306 yards and four touchdowns in the 44-13 win over Tennessee, while true freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper and true freshman running back T.J. Yeldon combined for 291 yards and four touchdowns — 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns for the former, 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the latter.
— In less than two-and-a-half quarters of play, Matt Barkley completed 19-of-20 passes for 298 yards and six touchdowns as USC trounced hapless Colorado 50-6. The 95-percent completion percentage broke, you guessed it, Rick Neuheisel‘s old conference record, while he set a school mark for career touchdowns with 100. That surpasses Matt Leinert‘s 99.
— Barkley wasn’t the only Trojan setting school records as wide receiver Robert Woods broke Dwayne Jarrett‘s mark of 216 career receptions in the 50-6 win over the Buffaloes.
— Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray set the school touchdown pass record with his 73rd on a two-yard throw to Tavarres King in the second quarter of the win over Kentucky. Murray now stands No. 12 on the SEC’s all-time list in that category.
— In the loss to Tech, TCU wide receiver Skye Dawson totaled 10 receptions for 154 yards; he came into the contest with 14 receptions for 199 yards in the first six games combined.
— The win over Michigan State was the 900th in the history of the storied Michigan football program, the first-ever FBS school to reach that rarefied air.
— Oregon State is 6-0 for the first time since 1907.
— In the first half of Florida’s blowout win over South Carolina, the Gators scored 21 points… on just 29 yards of total offense. UF also had more touchdowns (three) than first downs (two) in the first two quarters. I watched that game and still can’t really comprehend how that was possible.
— Louisiana Tech put up 56 points and had 582 yards of total offense against Idaho in the first half alone. The Bulldogs finished the 70-28 win with 839 yards of offense, with running back Kenneth Dixon scoring six rushing touchdowns and breaking a 36-year-old school record in the process.
— In the past four games, Texas’ defense has gone the way of France, surrendering 197 points and 2,317 yards of offense. To put that into perspective, Alabama has given up 151 points and allowed 3,474 yards the past 19 games.
— Zach Mettenberger‘s 29-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone with :11 left in the second quarter of their game against Texas A&M was LSU’s first against an SEC opponent since the third quarter of the Dec. 3 SEC championship game against Georgia, a span of 18 quarters.
— A six-yard touchdown pass by BYU’s Riley Nelson was the first touchdown Notre Dame has allowed in the past 17 quarters. The Irish came into the game second in the country in scoring defense, giving up an average of 8.7 points per game. The most points the Irish have given up this season is 17 in a three-point Week 2 win over Purdue.
— Oklahoma State’s 31-10 win over No. 24 Iowa State was the 63rd of Mike Gundy‘s OSU career, moving him past his former head coach, Pat Jones, as the all-time winningest coach in the program’s history.
— Boston College has given up 1,115 yards rushing the past three games — 516 to Army, 208 to Florida State and 391 in Saturday’s 37-17 loss to Georgia Tech.
— In Colorado’s last five trips to the state of California, which just goes back to 2010, the Buffaloes have lost by a staggering total of 224 points: USC (50-6), Cal (52-7), Stanford (48-7), UCLA (45-6) and Fresno State (69-14).
— SID Note of the Day: Clemson won today’s game over Virginia Tech 38-17 even though it was outgained by over 100 yards (406-295). It is just the second time in the last 35 years that Clemson won a game by at least 20 points and was outgained by at least 100 yards. The only other time in that period took place two years ago when Clemson beat Maryland 31-7, but was outgained by the Terps 350-213.
— SID Note of the Day, runner-up: In the win over Kansas, Oklahoma scored on a punt return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown in the same game for the first time in program history
— Eastern Michigan’s first win of the season, a 48-38 win over Army, was also their first over a non-conference FBS school since a 31-10 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Sept. 10, 2005.
— UConn went into Friday night’s blowout loss to Syracuse ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game (100.1), and yet still managed to torpedo that woeful showing by totaling minus-six yards in the 40-10 defeat.
— SMU’s point total in a 72-42 win over Houston Thursday night set a single-game school record. The Mustangs also forced the mistake-prone Cougars into a staggering nine turnovers, which is the second-most in the program’s history.
— With a 51-0 win over Otterbein, Larry Kehres of perennial Div. III juggernaut Mount Union passed the legendary Bear Bryant for fourth place on college football’s career win list with 324.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Four members of the MAC — Ohio, Toledo, Kent State and Northern Illinois — are a combined 27-3 in 2012.