January 14, 2010
The best (and worst) of the year.
5. UTEP 58, Houston 41. When I saw the box score of Texas' 64-7 win over UTEP in late September, I noted it was probably the worst beatdown, statistically speaking, that I had come across in four years of poring over the numbers. At halftime in Austin, the Miners had more turnovers (4) than first downs (3) and trailed 47-7; they were ultimately outgained by a staggering 586 yards for the game. The very next week, they came in for what should have been another lopsided rout at the hands of undefeated, 12th-ranked Houston, fresh off consecutive upsets of Big 12 South heavies Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
So of course, UTEP proceeded to light up the Cougars for more points (58) than it gained in total yards against the Longhorns (53) just a few days before. Miner running back Donald Buckram ran for 262 yards and four touchdowns in a late-night shootout that featured more than 1,200 total yards between both offenses and knocked Houston out of the mainstream polls entirely from its perch in the top 15.
4. Texas A&M 52, Texas Tech 30. On Oct. 10, Texas Tech shredded Kansas State, 66-14, behind an eye-popping, seven-touchdown performance by a backup quarterback in his first career start. The following week, the very same K-State rebounded by handing Texas A&M the single most humiliating loss of the season, a 62-14 butchering that could have been much worse if the Wildcats hadn't taken their foot off the pedal with a 59-0 edge five minutes into the third quarter. When A&M went to Lubbock on Oct. 24 -- where it had lost four straight trips by an average of 28 points -- transitive property said the Red Raiders might win by a hundred; Vegas put the line at 22.
Instead, the Aggies trashed Tech's defense for 559 yards and touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions en route to another stunning, week-to-week turnaround that kept A&M's season afloat, possibly saved Mike Sherman's job and elicited the infamous "Fat Little Girlfriends" quote from soon-to-be-fired Raider captain Mike Leach.
3. BYU 14, Oklahoma 13. If 2009 was the worst. season. ever. the first inclination of the coming malaise came on opening night, when the high-flying, championship-minded Sooners looked flat throughout the first half against the supposedly outmanned Cougars, who held Sam Bradford and Co. to a single touchdown in a slog of a first half. OU came into the game starting a longtime tight end at center and playing without its best receiver, Jermaine Gresham, because of injuries. When BYU's umpteenth hit on Bradford knocked the reigning Heisman winner out just before halftime, the bottom fell out: Redshirt freshman Landry Jones was just 6-of-12 passing for 51 yards and led the Sooners to all of three points in the second half.
The Cougars didn't fare much better on offense, but, trailing 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, were able to string together an epic, eight-and-a-half-minute, 16-play, 78-yard drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Max Hall to McKay Jacobson. The loss effectively dropped Oklahoma from the national championship picture and foreshadowed three months of sometimes literal pain.
2. Washington 16, USC 13. The Huskies came in riding a 10-game conference losing streak, a skid that included a 56-0 kneecapping at the hands of USC in 2008, and had only just broken their 15-game overall losing streak a week earlier, beating Idaho, 42-23. That modest milestone came on the same day USC cleared what appeared to be its only major hurdle to a perfect regular season with an 18-15, come-from-behind triumph at Ohio State. Oddsmakers set U-Dub as a 19-point underdog -- optimistic, really, as Pete Carroll's mighty Trojan machine had beaten the Huskies by an average of 24 over the course of a seven-game win streak in the series since 2002.
And they did proceed to push Washington around physically, piling up 250 yards on the ground to just 56 for the Huskies. But three USC turnovers and the worst passing performance in Carroll's nine-year tenure by backup quarterback Aaron Corp allowed the Huskies to hang around, until they eventually put together a 63-yard march for the winning field goal as the clock ticked down on the Trojans' fifth loss to a double-digit underdog in a little over three years. Even on the other end of USC's worst season in eight years, even with Corp in the lineup in place of freshman starter Matt Barkley, this one makes very, very little sense.
1. Purdue 26, Ohio State 18. For unexplainable jaw-droppers, though, the Boilermakers take the gold for their abrupt uprising over the eventual Big Ten champs, a one-shot upset that makes even less sense in hindsight than in did in mid-October. At kickoff, Purdue had lost five in a row, including losses to Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota, and ranked dead last in the conference in total and scoring defense. Yet it was here that Terrelle Pryor elected to stage the worst performance of his career, succumbing to a steady dose of pressure (the Boilers dropped him for five sacks) by offering up two interceptions and putting the ball on the ground twice more. With no steady running game to speak of against the Big Ten's worst rushing defense, OSU was effectively out of it well before it added a couple cheap scores in the fourth quarter.
If nothing else, the loss to a conference bottom dweller woke the Buckeyes up: Purdue still fell short of a bowl game, but Ohio State rallied to win its last six, dropping three teams (Penn State, Iowa and Oregon) that finished in the final top 10 for the program's first Rose Bowl win since 1996. Some teams adapt to the shock better than others, I guess.
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Previously: The year's sharpest turning points.