January 13, 2010
The best and worst of the year.
5. Ole Miss acquires the McCluster Bomb. By mid-October, Ole Miss' dream season was already fading fast after grim losses to South Carolina and Alabama, against whom the Rebels combined to score a single offensive touchdown. Through the first six games, senior receiver/running back/Wildcat Dexter McCluster was averaging 60 total yards on nine touches per game. In need of a spark, Ole Miss made McCluster the full-time tailback against Arkansas on Oct. 24, and got out of the way: D-Mac torched the Razorbacks for 260 yards in a 30-17 Rebel win and went on to average 221 yards on 29 touches per game down the stretch. His 324-yard, four-touchdown explosion in a 42-17 win over Tennessee stands as one of the great individual performances of the season.
The Rebels won six of their last eight and took their second straight Cotton Bowl (where McCluster had 229 yards and both of the team's offensive touchdowns against Oklahoma State) to secure back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in nearly 50 years. The only regret: That it took three-and-a-half years to finally make McCluster the focal point of the attack.
4. Ohio State wakes up. The Buckeyes were still on track for a big year despite a sleepy offensive effort in an 18-15 home loss to USC in September, but there was no sugarcoating a dismal, 26-18 loss at Purdue on Oct. 17 that knocked OSU from the national picture for good and began to turn the jury against Terrelle Pryor after the sophomore quarterback's four-turnover effort in the loss. Instead of fading, though, the Buckeyes rebounded to win their last six, including a road wipeout over Penn State, a home escape against Iowa to lock up a Rose Bowl berth, win No. 6 in a row over Michigan and finally the Rose Bowl triumph over Oregon.
The end of OSU's longstanding big-game malaise in Pasadena completed their rise from No. 18 immediately following the Purdue loss to No. 5 in the final polls, established Pryor as a Heisman frontrunner in 2010 and virtually guaranteed the Buckeyes of a spot in the top three or four in next fall's preseason ballots.
3. Navy sinks Charlie Weis' job status. The Irish came into their annual scrimmage with the Midshipmen sitting at 6-2, with four very winnable games standing between them and a triumphant return to the BCS. They came out of the game battered by Navy's prolific triple option attack and three devastating turnovers in their second straight loss to the Middies in South Bend, wounds they weren't able to overcome: With a big-money game out of the picture, ND went on to yield 35 points and 432 yards per game in losses to Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Stanford to close the season, more than enough to show Charlie Weis the door after five years and usher in the Brian Kelly era a little more than a week later.
2. Sam Bradford goes down ... again. Oklahoma's dreams of a return to the BCS title game went up in flames barely an hour into the season, when Heisman-defending quarterback Sam Bradford was flattened with a bum shoulder just before halftime of the Sooners' opening-night loss against BYU. Bradford sat out the entirety of OU's loss at Miami in early October, and two weeks later failed to make it past the second series of the Sooners' 16-13 loss to rival Texas. With the Big 12 title and another round of personal accolades out of the picture, Bradford called it a career a week later and set his sights on the draft while Oklahoma set its sights on a return to the top in 2010.
1. Oregon crushes USC. The mighty Trojans had been upset in September by lowly Washington, but the lapse in Seattle fit all too well with the other stunning losses conference rivals had dealt USC since 2006 -- Washington's upset in September was the fifth Pac-10 game the Trojans had dropped as a double-digit favorite since '06, and the none of the previous four had stopped SC from rolling on to a conference title, a blowout win in the Rose Bowl and its usual spot in the top four of the final polls. In fact, that's right where the Trojans sat on Halloween: At No. 4 in the mainstream polls, No. 5 in the BCS, and in prime position for another championship run when a couple of the teams in front of them inevitably slipped up down the stretch.
The 47-20 beatdown the Ducks administered in Eugene on Halloween night was utterly unlike anything we'd seen before against a Pete Carroll-led team -- the Trojans lost by more points that night (27) than in their previous seven losses since 2004 combined (26). The defense was ripped for 613 yards by Oregon's read option attack, 391 on the ground, smashing all precedent against a Carroll defense and leaving the USC mystique in tatters. Stanford further humiliated the Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum two weeks later, and Arizona finished the job with a 21-17 upset in the Coliseum two weeks after that, knocking SC from the polls for the first time since 2001. A month later, Carroll is gone, a giant question mark has just been handed the keys and nobody knows what will become of the decade's most consistent powerhouse.