The Fifth Quarter: Week 8 Rewind

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As is the case each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

(Writer’s note: Before you ask, no, I have no idea when that picture was taken nor do I particularly care.  Its sublime awesomeness and utter brilliance is timeless, and therefore more than deserving of its place in the leadoff photo hole.  Hopefully, it’ll bring you as much joy as it has Ben and myself throughout the day.)

WINNERS

Tuscaloosa football Armageddon, locked and loaded
LSU 45, Auburn 10, pushing the top-ranked Tigers to 8-0 on the season.  Alabama 38, Tennessee 6, pushing the second-ranked Crimson Tide to 8-0 on the season as well.  Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to both teams taking care of their business, we are now roughly 330 hours away at the time of this posting from an unofficial 2011 BcS title play-in game.  With a bye week, the Nov. 5 game will almost take on the feel of a Super Bowl: a two-week build-up that will culminate in one of the most anticipated regular-season matchups in recent memory.  Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the game will be moved from its current 3:30 ET kickoff to a rightful slot in prime time.  Regardless of what the network suits decide, though, this one is shaping up to be one for the ages.  Now, for the carnage Week 8 wrought…

I… am… Spartycus
To be perfectly blunt, I thought Michigan State had little to no chance of defeating No. 4 Wisconsin.  As they say, that’s why they play the game as, for the first time this year, the Badgers were tested… and failed in the most heartbreaking and gut wrenching of fashions.  For the Badgers to come all the way back from a 31-17 deficit in the fourth quarter, and see their unbeaten season and dreams of sneaking into the BcS title game ripped away by a Hail Mary, mere inches away from overtime… well, that’s about as devastating as it gets in the world of major college football.

For the second straight week, however, the Spartans proved their defense is real, and it’s (kinda) (sorta) spectacular, holding the high-powered Badgers to “just” 31 points; UW came into the primetime showdown leading the nation in scoring at just over 50 points per game.  Were it not for the inexplicable loss to Notre Dame the third week of the season, the Spartans would be square in the BcS title mix.  Instead, MSU will have to settle for  being in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten’s Legends (chuckle) division, with seemingly just a date next week with Nebraska standing in the way of a berth in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.  As for the Badgers?  As mentioned earlier, any shot they had at a January trip to New Orleans has vanished.  They could still, though, find themselves in Indianapolis in early December with the opportunity to exact revenge on the Spartans.  Maybe by then, if it were to go down that way, the sting of this loss will have dissipated.

Movin’ on up… at least they should be
If I’m a voter in any of the major polls — and thank y’all’s lucky stars I’m not… yet —  I move Stanford into the No. 3 hole behind LSU and Alabama.  Yes, above Oklahoma State and Clemson and Boise State and every other unbeaten school that doesn’t reside in the SEC.  And, to my simple mind, it’s a no-brainer.  All the Cardinal has done is win their past 10 games by at least 25 points — the first time that’s ever happened in the poll era —  including Saturday’s 65-21 drubbing of No. 25 Washington in which they pounded out 446 yards on the ground; UW came into the game No. 17 in the country in run defense, giving up just 97 yards per game.  They ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 15 games with the win.  Their seven wins this season have come by an average of exactly 36 points.  Granted, their competition has been less than stellar — UW and Washington State have been their “best” wins — but the way they’ve gone about dispatching their inferior opponents with extreme prejudice leads me to believe they could play with any team in the country.  And, yes, I’m including the two SEC schools on a neutral field in that belief as well.

Unknown and unheralded, but still unbeaten
What Bill Snyder is doing at Kansas State is truly astonishing.  Not just the fact that he has the No. 12 Wildcats sitting at a perfect 7-0 following their blowout of in-state rival Kansas, but how Snyder’s led them there given the makeup of the roster is truly astonishing.  KSU is currently 12 players under the NCAA-mandated 85-man scholarship limit, and their two-deep roster consists of  eight JUCO transfers, four transfers from other Div. 1 schools and two walk-ons.  The road will get a lot tougher the next couple of weeks, however; the next two weeks, they face No. 3 (for now) Oklahoma in Manhattan and travel to Stillwater to face No. 4 Oklahoma State.  Still, Snyder’s Wildcats have been one of the most pleasant, if unnoticed, surprises of the 2011 season, regardless of what happens the next two Saturdays.

Blanket Sammy at your own peril
For most of No. 8 Clemson’s cruise of a win over North Carolina, stud true freshman Sammy Watkins had been kept in check — prior to a 42-yard touchdown catch midway through the third quarter, the wide receiver had “just” seven receptions for 49 yards.  While the UNC defense was busy taking Watkins out of the game offensively, one of Watkins’ teammates was busy taking over the Tigers’ passing attack.  In a 59-38 win that wasn’t even remotely as close as the final score indicated, sophomore DeAndre Hopkins set career highs with nine receptions and 157 receiving yards while tossing in a touchdown catch for good measure.  The best part for the Tigers, aside the fact that it was their eighth straight win this season, is that it shows future opposing defenses that they can take Watkins out of the game, but they’ll do so at their own peril as quarterback Tajh Boyd has other quality weapons with which to work.

Record-breaking return
At this point in time last year, Case Keenum was a month into the rehab of a torn ACL.  Fast-forward 12 months, and the quarterback of the No. 21 and unbeaten Houston Cougars has set the first of what could be a handful of career passing marks.  With a 30-yard pass in the first quarter of a win against Marshall, Keenum broke the NCAA’s career total offense mark of 16,910 set by Hawaii’s Timmy Chang from 2001-04.  The sixth-year senior will now set his sights on a couple of other passing standards: Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell‘s 134 career passing touchdowns — Keenum has 130 — and Chang’s 17,072 career passing yards — Keenum currently sits at 16,271 with five regular season games remaining.  As he’s averaging around 380 yards and three touchdowns per game, it’s fair to say both those marks will fall in the not-too-distant future.

Follow unbeaten path to the BcS’ demise
After eight weeks of the 2010 season, there were seven unbeaten teams ranked in the Top 25 of the Associated Press poll; after eight weeks of the 2011 season, there are eight undefeated Top 25 squads.  While that number remains above the total at this point a year ago, it won’t remain at that level through the end of the season as there are two matchups that could potentially pit unbeatens against each other — LSU-Alabama and Oklahoma State-Kansas State.  Still, there could be as many as six undefeated teams by the time the curtain closes on the regular season.  If you’re a fan of a playoff system at the top level of college football, root like hell for six teams to come out of the year unscathed; four undefeated teams getting shut out of a shot at a national championship, including two from automatic qualifying conferences — Clemson and Stanford — could certainly be the impetus to begin serious discussions in ridding major college football of the BcS.  Especially if one of those schools shutout out of a shot happens to come from Larry Scott‘s conference.

Cowboys scoff in general direction of upset alerts
For whatever reason, perhaps because it was on the road, the Oklahoma State-Missouri game was viewed by some as a “trap” game for the Cowboys.  One 19-point win later that wasn’t really that close, and OSU remains on track for what could very well be a Bourbon Street end to the season.  Not all is well with the Cowboys, however.  Coming into the game ranked No. 80 in stopping the run, OSU allowed Mizzou to roll up 248 yards on the ground, although, to be fair, it took the Tigers 52 carries to reach that total.  Still, a team with its sights set on an unbeaten season and a potential berth in the BcS title game doesn’t give up that many yards on the ground.  In fact, no team in the BcS era has won a title after giving up more than 132 yards per game rushing during the regular season; after today’s game, OSU is allowing a whopping 186 yards every weekend.  Somehow, some way, Mike Gundy and his staff needs to shore up that aspect of what is overall one of the top teams in the country.

On a stiff-armed pace?
Last week in this space, I compared Alabama quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy through seven games in their first years as a starter in 2011 and 2009, respectively.  So I figured what the hell, let’s do the same for ’11 Trent Richardson and ’09 Mark Ingram.  Ingram was the Heisman winner during the Tide’s title-winning season, and Richardson was his backup as a true freshman.  Here are how the stats of the two standout running backs compare through eight games of their respective seasons:

Richardson: 149 carries for 989 yards; 17 touchdowns; 6.6 yards per carry; 18 receptions for 212 yards; one receiving touchdown

Ingram: 153 carries for 1,004 yards; eight touchdowns; 6.6 yards per carry; 19 receptions for 186 yards; three receiving touchdowns

Is it any wonder Richardson’s name is at or near the top of every Heisman watch list?

LOSERS

OU, oh my…
Well, so much for the once-in-a-millennium stakes that would make for a Bedlam to end all Bedlams.  In a game I’m still having a very difficult time wrapping my head around, No. 3 Oklahoma fell behind Texas Tech 31-7 in third quarter — IN NORMAN — and could get no closer than three points the rest of the way as the Sooners were stunningly and very rudely dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten 41-38.  Again, IN NORMAN.  Combined with Wisconsin’s loss, OU’s defeat at the hands of the Red Raiders takes the top half of the BcS rankings and throws them into utter turmoil.  But how did the Sooners — IN NORMAN — get caught up in the carnage?  It may take weeks for a reliable autopsy to be performed, but the seeds were planted in the Sooners’ underwhelming 30-point win over Kansas last weekend.  In the win over the Jayhawks, it appeared the Sooners thought they could just turn it on whenever they wanted.  They seemed to take the same tack this week, but, to the detriment of their unbeaten season, they weren’t in Kansas anymore, and the Jayhawks weren’t the Red Raiders.  At least for now, OU’s reduced to playing the role of spoiler, first against Kansas State next week, and then Oklahoma State in early December.  Based on their standing atop the coaches’ poll in every release since the preseason, it’s a role the Sooners likely never thought they’d find themselves in.

See!  Told y’all!!!
When it comes to Boise State, there are many members of the media as well as fans looking to pick any kind of nits they can find.  For those types of individuals, today is like an early Christmas.  The No. 5 Broncos jumped out to a 20-7 lead against an average Air Force squad, then plodded their way to, based on their track record, a rather unimpressive and uninspiring 36-27 win, at home on the Smurf Turf no less.  It’s not like BSU was a dead ringer for Memphis or anything like that; rather, they weren’t the precision, machine-like Broncos we’ve become accustomed to over the past several years.  And therein lies the problem: the Broncos simply can’t afford these types of performances given the strength, or lack thereof, of their overall schedule.  All days like today do is give critics additional ammunition.  And poll voters a good reason in their minds to drop the Broncos despite a win.

Woo Pig…  phew, that was close
This game may have been the dictionary definition of playing down to — or below — the level of your competition.  Arkansas was No. 9 in the country and coming off huge back-to-back wins over teams ranked in the Top 15 at the time.  Ole Miss was one of the worst teams in not just the SEC but in any BcS conference, and had lost nine straight conference games entering Saturday afternoon.  Yes, the Razorbacks were able to come from behind and post a five-point win, but the fact that they had to come from behind at all, let alone having to climb out of a 17-point hole and survive a recovered onside kick by the Rebels, has to be disconcerting and a little concerning for anyone connected to the program.  Then again, you may just be able to chalk it up to a let-down game or the aforementioned playing down to the Rebels’ level.  With a road game against a Vanderbilt squad that you don’t want to underestimate next on the docket, though, Bobby Petrino needs to clean some issues up in order to avoid a repeat performance next weekend that could end in an “L” instead of a “W”.

Yellow Jackets stung by consecutive losses
(Writer’s note: don’t worry; I groaned and/or cringed for ya.)
The morning of Oct. 15, Georgia Tech was sitting at an unblemished 6-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country, speeding headfirst toward an Oct. 29 showdown with fellow ACC unbeaten Clemson.  A loss that weekend to Virginia crushed the hopes of an unbeaten matchup.  A loss a week later leaves the Yellow Jackets looking up at Virginia Tech in the Coastal division and in a world of conference hurt.  The second of the back-to-back losses came at the hands of Miami, who, to be blunt, thoroughly embarrassed Tech in a dominating 24-7 win.  Thanks to a stifling Hurricanes defense, the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted running game could get nothing going all game long, totaling just 134 yards — the first time this season they’ve been held below 272 yards in a single game this season — and a miniscule 2.8 yards per carry.  Coming into the game, Tech had been averaging 347.9 yards and 6.3 ypc.  Fortunately, the Yellow Jackets still have a date with the Hokies that could keep them square in the Coastal mix.  Unfortunately, they still have a date with Clemson, and it couldn’t come at a worst time coming off consecutive poor performances in losses.  Hey, speaking of midseason flops…

Live by the Zook, die by the Zook
During the first half of the season, Illinois was the toast of Champaign (see what I did there?), winning their first six games and climbing to No. 15 in the Associated Press rankings.  Two weekends and two straight losses later, we have a Ron Zook-coached team once again impersonating water — or a catastrophic flood, as the case may be — and finding its level.  Coming on the heels of a 10-point home loss to an Ohio State team reeling from off-field distractions and possessing the utter inability to successfully complete a forward pass on a consistent basis, the Fighting Illini embarrassingly fell behind 3-3 Purdue 21-0 in the first half on its way to yet another inexplicable loss.  With the 21-14 loss to the Boilermakers, the Illini have all but eliminated themselves from contention in the Big 10’s Leaders (chuckle) division.  Then again, with Zook in control, I think we knew that weeks ago.

Kentucky football — what Lexington does during hoops offseason
Now that Big Blue Madness has officially gotten people in Lexington, KY, excited about basketball season again, there isn’t much reason to put up with the football team anymore. At 2-4, there hasn’t been anything to cheer about with the Wildcats, and fans made it crystal clear they had moved on from the season when this photo was taken 10 minutes before the team’s “Catwalk” into the Commonwealth Stadium, where turnout was not much better:

Two-run homer breaks up Ducks’ shutout
Out of all the first-year coaches, there might only be one other at a BcS conference school (read a little further down for the identity of that poor soul) having a rougher first go-around than Colorado’s Jon Embree.  His Buffaloes have won just one game this season, with all but two of the seven losses coming by at least 17 points; the last three games have been even worse, with the average final score coming in at a bloated 48-11.  Included in that latter total was a 45-2 home shellacking at the hands of the No. 10 Oregon Ducks , which was without their top two offensive players.  The Buffs couldn’t pass the ball — they completed well under half of their 33 attempts for just 133 yards — but more than made up for it by being unable to get anywhere on the ground, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry.

ODDS & ENDS

— I don’t know what was more aesthetically pleasing, LSU’s utter evisceration of the defending national champs or the white helmets (pictured) the Tigers wore.  I’m not normally one to delve into the fashion side of college football — Ben serves as CFT’s resident Mr. Blackwell — but that nod-to-the-nineties headgear was very pleasing to the eye.  Of course, Auburn Nation’s mileage may vary on that opinion.

— Alabama, LSU and Stanford have won each of their games this season by at least 13 points.  The Tigers’ closest games were 13-point wins over Oregon and Mississippi State; the Tide’s a 16-point win over Alabama; and the Cardinal’s a 26-point win over Arizona.

— Oklahoma State suffered a rather significant blow in their win over Missouri, losing wide receiver Hubert Anyiam to a season-ending injury.  Per the school, Anyiam broke a bone in his left foot during the first half of the win.  Anyiam is currently third on the Cowboys in receptions and receiving yards.

— Mirroring his team’s 41-16 loss to Florida State, Maryland starting quarterback C.J. Brown was knocked out of the game by a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit.  Head coach Randy Edsall has already labeled Brown’s availability for next week’s tilt with Boston College as a game-time decision.

–- Already the winningest head coach in Div. 1-A history, Joe Paterno tied legendary former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson for the second-most victories at any level of college football in Penn State’s win over Northwestern.  With 408 career victories, Paterno has a long way to go to catch the all-divisions leader, though; John Gigliardi of Div.III’s St. John’s (Minn.) had 480 heading into this weekend.  Interestingly, at least to me, is the fact that Paterno’s last three milestone wins have come against the Wildcats: win No. 324 in October of 2001, which pushed him ahead of the iconic Bear Bryant, and win No. 400 last year.

— Through 49 games as Nebraska’s head coach, Bo Pelini has compiled a 36-13 record. In his first 49 games as the Cornhuskers’ boss — nearly four full seasons — Frank Solich had a record 42-7. Of course, there’s a touch difference in the situation Tom Osborne left for Solich as opposed to the one Pelini inherited from Bill Callahan, but I found it interesting nonetheless.  Don’t have any clue what it means if anything, though.

— Either due to injury or coach’s decision, seven teams in the SEC have changed starting quarterbacks since the start of the 2011 season: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.  The Tigers and Commodores became the sixth and seventh SEC teams this weekend to make the switch.

— Taking a turn toward the macabre, a body was found at Akron’s InfoCision Stadium shortly before the start of the Zips’ games with Ohio University.  Police investigating the death would not say whether the body was found inside or outside the stadium, but they did say it was an apparent suicide.

HEISMAN RACE, BY THE NUMBERS

A statistical look at how some — stressing the word “some” — of the top contenders for this year’s stiff-arm trophy fared this weekend, listed in alphabetical order so as not to offend any of the delicate sensibilities readers in the audience may possess or get their unmentionables all wadded up over “their” player being excluded:

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (8-0, No. 8)
Saturday: 27-of-46 (58.7 percent), 367 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions; one rushing touchdown
Season: 172-of-278 (64.2 percent), 2,379 yards, 24 touchdowns, three interceptions; four rushing touchdowns

Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (4-2, unranked)
Saturday: bye weekend
Season: 142-of-182 (78 percent), 1,950 yards, 22 touchdowns, two interceptions; two rushing touchdowns

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (7-0, No. 7)
Saturday: 16-of-21 (76.2 percent), 169 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions; zero rushing touchdowns
Season: 145-of-202 (71.8 percent), 1,888 yards, 20 touchdowns, three interceptions; one rushing touchdown

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (7-0, No. 5)
Saturday: 23-of-29 (79.3 percent), 281 yards, three touchdowns, one interception; zero rushing touchdowns
Season: 174-of-228 (76.3 percent), 2,010 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions; three rushing touchdowns

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (8-0, No. 2)
Saturday: 17 carries for 77 yards (4.5 yards per carry), 2 touchdowns; three receptions for 33 yards, zero receiving touchdowns
Season: 149 carries for 989 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 17 touchdowns; 18 receptions for 212 yards, one receiving touchdown

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— Boise State’s win over Air Force was the 45th victory in the quarterbacking career of Kellen Moore, tying the mark set by Texas’ Colt McCoy a couple of years ago.  Barring some type of historic collapse on the part of his Broncos, Moore will finish his record-setting career at or north of the 50-win plateau.

— Prior to Texas Tech’s stunning upset in Norman, Oklahoma hadn’t lost a home game to anyone since 2005 and to a Big 12 opponent since 2001.

Seth Doege threw for 441 yards and accounted for five touchdowns — four passing, one rushing — In the Red Raiers win over the Sooners.

Playing without starting quarterback Darron Thomas and starting running back LaMichael James, Oregon rolled up 293 yards of offense against Colorado — in the first quarter.  The Ducks averaged 14.7 yards on their 14 first-quarter carries in jumping out to a 29-0 lead.  Fortunately for the woebegone Buffs, the Ducks took their foot off the gas — and off CU’s throat — for the remainder of the game, finishing with “just” 527 yards of offense in the 45-3 win.

— In a span of 22:32 from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third, Clemson scored 49 points on an overwhelmed North Carolina squad.  There were seven touchdowns in that span: four Tajh Boyd scoring tosses, one Boyd scoring run and an interception and fumble return.  Before the scoring spree, the Tigers and Tar Heels were tied at 10 and how much fun is alliteration y’all!

— Speaking of Boyd, the Heisman contender accounted for six total touchdowns in the win — five passing, one rushing.  That ties Clemson’s single-game record.

— In one of the more amazing statistical performances you’ll ever see, East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis completed all 26 of his pass attempts for 251 yards in the first half against Navy.  His first pass of the second half fell incomplete, but the 26 straight completions set a single-game NCAA record, breaking the mark of 23 held by Tennessee’s Tee Martin and Cal’s Aaron Rodgers.  Davis also completed 36 straight passes over two games, breaking the mark of 26 set by Rodgers.

— Despite being out of the college game for seven years, Rodgers’ name has suddenly become an overriding theme in Week 8.  In addition to a pair of his records being broken, the current Green Bay quarterback’s younger brother made his first start under center for Vanderbilt.  Jordan Rodgers accounted for 282 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in the Commodores’ 44-24 win over Army.

— Kansas State has outscored Kansas by a combined score of 118-28 the past two years, 59-7 last year and 59-21 this season.  Somewhere, Bret Bielema is quietly applauding.  And loudly weeping over the stunning loss.

— Collin Klein rushed for four touchdowns in K-State’s Sunflower Showdown win, giving him 14 on the season.  Klein, incidentally, is the Wildcats’ starting quarterback.

– The 49 points Syracuse put up in their blowout win over No. 15 West Virginia Friday night was the most they’ve scored in a non-overtime game since hanging 63 on Rhode Island in September of 2002.    The last time they’d scored at least 49 against a Div. 1-A school?  November of 2000 against Rutgers in a 49-21 win.

— Arizona came into Thursday night’s game with UCLA averaging just under 72 yards per game, a total good for 119th out of 120 Div. 1-A teams.  In their first two drives against the Bruins, the Wildcats, playing their first game since Mike Stoops was fired as head coach, rushed for 79 yards.  For the game, UA ran for a season-high 254 in the win.  Their previous season high?  A 129-yard effort against USC Oct. 1.

— In the first half of Kentucky’s game with 1-AA Jacksonville State, the Wildcats totaled 253 yards of total offense.  In their past two games combined, UK had totaled 251 yards of total offense.

— In the game mentioned above, UK running back CoShik Williams rushed for a career-high 148 yards.  And, yes, I included this note just so I could type the word “CoShik”.

— Proof that time of possession means next to nothing in college football: New Mexico led TCU in that stat 30:09-29:51… and lost 69-0.  How you can possess the ball for a half an hour with only five first downs and 85 yards of total offense like the Lobos did is beyond me.  By the way, the Horned Frogs’ point total broke a 79-year-old school record for points in a game.

— Ole Miss extended their school-record SEC losing streak to 10 games with the loss to Arkansas.  Houston, you have a serious, serious problem.

— In their three Big Ten games under first-year head coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota has lost by an average of 37.7 points.  In conference play, the Gophers have been outscored 144-31; outgained 1,467 to 644 in total yards; and find themselves on the short end in first downs 81-30.

— Quarterback Zach Collaros accounted for five touchdowns — three passing, two rushing — in Cincinnati’s 37-34 win over USF.  The come-from-behind win, incidentally, kept the Bearcats unbeaten in Big East play, the only team in the conference that can make that claim.

— With two interceptions in the win over Virginia, North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson increased his nation-leading total to eight.

— Of Trent Richardson’s 149 carries this season, just 19 of them have come in the fourth quarter.

— Wake Forest has beaten Duke 12 straight times; seven of those wins have come by seven points or less, including the Demon Deacons 24-23 win Saturday.

NEXT ON THE DOCKET

A snapshot look at next weekend’s top games:

No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Kansas State
The Sooners’ inexplicable loss has taken some of the sheen off this game, but it remains one of the most important tilts on the Week 9 slate. If the Wildcats can take down OU in Manhattan, they would find themselves stride for stride with Oklahoma State in the race to the Big 12 crown and an automatic berth in a BcS bowl. If OU can go on the road and ruin KSU’s dream season… if they can claim a Bedlam win in Stillwater… if such events transpire, the Sooners could still find themselves on the receiving end of a BcS bowl invite. The first step in picking themselves off the ground involves the Wildcats, however. Based on the first seven games of the season, KSU isn’t about to lend a helping hand.

No. 8 Stanford at USC
Most prognosticators pointed to the Cardinal’s matchup with Oregon as their lone obstacle to a Rose Bowl berth or a shot in the BcS title game.  As dangerous as the Trojans are, and coming off their impressive win in South Bend, it would behoove the Cardinal to not overlook USC ahead of their Nov. 12 date with the Ducks.  Making this game even more dangerous for Stanford is the fact that USC is ineligible for a bowl again this year; in essence, this game will likely be viewed as the Trojans’ postseason.

No. 16 Michigan State at No. 13 Nebraska
Thanks to the Spartans miraculous win, this game will be rife with Big Ten implications.  MSU is 3-0 in the Legends division; the Cornhuskers are a game behind at 2-1.  The winner of this game will control their own destiny in the division.  And, if destiny’s involved, I sure as hell ain’t betting against the Spartans.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”