October 04, 2010
Adjusting to the weekend's new realities.
• Escalator to hell and/or another Fiesta Bowl. The inevitable backslide has begun for Boise State, which surrendered the No. 3 spot in both major polls this week to surging Oregon, whose second-half obliteration of Stanford on national television Saturday night easily trumped the Broncos' 59-0 jog over lowly New Mexico State on the scrolling ticker. Boise coach Chris Petersen, ever the humble stoic, says he doesn't care. Boise fans reacted with slightly more passion.
Righteous anger notwithstanding, even the true-blue-est of Bronco partisans knew this day was coming: BSU has finished four of the last six regular seasons without a blemish, and hasn't been a serious part of the BCS championship discussion in any of them. The advance hype for an absurdly experienced outfit this year can only go so far as the obscure WAC wins begin to dilute the early cachet of beating Virginia Tech and Oregon State.
The reality of Boise's extremely narrow championship hopes has always rested on the absence of more than one undefeated team from the "Big Six" conferences to put in front of them. This week it's Oregon; as the strengths of schedule continue to diverge over the next two months, fellow unbeatens Oklahoma, Nebraska, Auburn, Arizona and possibly even the winner of TCU-Utah in the Mountain West will begin to catch up and eventually pass the Broncos as long as they keep the 'L' column clean. Those teams control their own destiny; Boise needs help, or there's nowhere to go but down.
• Graham > Lewis? With preseason All-American Dion Lewis sitting out a likely rout over Florida International, Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham exploded Saturday in his first career start, ripping off 277 yards on 9.6 per carry in a 44-17 blowout. Those were the best single-game marks by any Pitt back since Tony Dorsett in 1975, and easily topped Lewis' career highs in both categories, just one week after Graham clearly outplayed Lewis when the two split carries in a Thursday-night loss to Miami. Statistically, the head-to-head comparison through the first four games isn't even close.
The obvious conclusion: Lewis will be back in the starting lineup Saturday at Notre Dame, hoping to reprise his 152-yard effort against the Irish last November. Lewis put up that number on 21 carries. With his slow start and Graham lying in wait, he may not get half that this time without a couple of statement runs out of the gate.
• Locker lives. Barring a genuine miracle over the next two months, Jake Locker's longshot Heisman hopes are still dead as a doornail after his myth-busting flop against Nebraska a couple weeks back. But his reputation was redeemed in a big way Saturday with the best game of his career at USC, a 420-yard effort capped by a 62-yard drive for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
True, USC's defense is shaping up as a disaster. But it's not every day you walk out of the L.A. Coliseum with the hype-justifying game of your life (so far) under your belt.
• Texas Tech is rejecting its coach transplant. Kansas, too. It's not like we were under any grand illusions about the Red Raiders or Jayhawks after the former's impotent loss to Texas and the latter's early flops against North Dakota State and Southern Miss. But Saturday's sobering forays into the lower reaches of the Big 12 left each gasping for air after allowing both Baylor (in a 55-7 demolition of Kansas) and Iowa State (in a 52-28 runaway from Texas Tech) to set new school records for points scored in a Big 12 game.
Toss in Colorado's upset over Georgia and Texas' ongoing decline since handcuffing the Red Raiders in Lubbock, and Tech and KU pretty clearly look like the worst teams in the Big 12. If they can't break into the win column this weekend in desperation dates with Baylor and Texas A&M, respectively, they might as well go ahead and give up any hope of a bowl game.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.