There were no upsets of the nation's top teams this week, but man, were there some close calls. Texas, Tennessee, Notre Dame and California all needed near-miraculous recoveries to remain undefeated, but perhaps the greatest comeback of all time goes to the beleaguered Spartans of Michigan State.
Ohio State 44, Indiana 3
Ohio State continues to do everything you should as the No. 1 team in the country. The Buckeyes locked up this game before halftime against a team they are supposed to beat, and Heisman hopeful quarterback Troy Smith not only threw four touchdown passes but also completed them to four different people to keep everybody happy. And oh yeah, the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (tied with LSU) also held the Hoosiers to seven rushing yards and 165 total.
Michigan 20, Iowa 6
Michigan sits in that precarious No. 2 position in the national polls. The way the Wolverines played for about three quarters made it look like they were going to be the fifth second-ranked team to bite the dust. But thanks to mighty mite tailback Mike Hart the Wolverines kept pounding the Hawkeyes until they finally folded under the pressure. Hart had only 27 yards in the first half but looked ever stronger as the game wore on and finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
Like Ohio State, Michigan is led by a powerful defense. The Wolverines lead the nation against the run, giving up only 34 yards per game. With Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana coming up it’s looking more and more like an undefeated, No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in the season closer against Ohio State – another game of the century.
Texas 22, Nebraska 20
A game I had predicted earlier in the week as a lock for Texas not only proved me wrong – almost – but also proved to me that Nebraska is on the way back to the level of its glorious past. The Huskers likely will reach the Big 12 championship game (although Missouri still will have a lot to say about this).
Defense and big plays were the storylines of the day, but in the end the only difference between the two teams was an unknown Texas kicker, Ryan Bailey. He punched his first collegiate kick through the goalposts for the game-winning field goal with 23 seconds left.
Louisville 28, Syracuse 13
For the second week in a row, I think most of us are a little disappointed in what we’ve seen out of the sixth-ranked team in the country. Last week the Cardinals survived a 23-17 scare from Cincinnati, and Saturday they led Syracuse 21-13 with a little more than five minutes left before putting it away.
Although Brian Brohm has been back these past two weeks the fifth-ranked scoring offense can’t seem to get back on track. Running back Kolby Smith did do a nice job of helping us to forget about Michael Bush, running for a buck sixty-five and two touchdowns. I guess it doesn’t really matter if Louisville keeps winning ugly because next up is No. 4 West Virginia. If the Cards win that one, they're in the national championship race, and if they lose, they're out of the BCS race.
Tennessee 16, Alabama 13
Tennessee is not getting a lot of national love this year although the Vols beat the heck out of Georgia and California and is a one-point loss to Florida away from being undefeated. Saturday’s hard-fought, come-from-behind victory over Alabama was a little different for the SEC's leading offense, as the Vols could score only one touchdown. However, that one was as sweet as they get, coming with 3:28 remaining in the game to give Tennessee its only lead.
Alabama continues to play good enough defensively to be in every game, but the Crimson Tide offense continues to play badly enough to be out of every game. The Vols will find out if they are worthy of their No. 7 ranking in the next three games against South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas.
Auburn 38, Tulane 13
Auburn avoided the letdown after its big win over Florida by taking care of business against the outmanned Green Wave. Tulane was so outmanned that Auburn sat a slew of its best players, like Kenny Irons and Brad Lester, to get them healthy for the rest of the season.
The biggest storyline of this game, though, is head coach Tommy Tuberville's great scheduling. A lot of teams around the country have four weak non-conference opponents on their schedule, but most of them are bunched up at the beginning of the year before conference play begins. Tuberville has them dispersed throughout the schedule every three weeks or so, allowing him to use them like off weeks. This gets kids healthy and gets extra prep time for the next big opponent. Tulane and a horrendous Ole Miss ought to give the Tigers plenty of R&R before their finales with Georgia and Alabama.
Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17
I know this will go down as one of the great comeback victories of all time for Notre Dame (along with the Michigan State win earlier this year) and the Irish have secured their top-10 ranking and a chance for a BCS game, but you have to wonder just how good this team is. I broadcast UCLA's previous game against Oregon and left thinking that the Bruins were a good but not great team that would struggle for a while with backup quarterback Pat Cowan.
Well for 59 minutes I thought that either UCLA had become a much better team than the week before or Notre Dame is not quite as good as its lofty ranking. If you think about it, the Irish have beaten only one ranked team in the last two years, and that was a Georgia Tech team that looks like a bottom-half top-25 team at best. With Navy, North Carolina, Air Force and Army coming up on the schedule, I’m not sure we’re going to know much more than we do now. I do know one thing about the Irish, though – they sure are fun to watch.
California 31, Washington 24 (OT)
In another doozy, 10th-ranked California allowed an amazing last-second touchdown reception that forced overtime before Marshawn Lynch scored from 22 yards out to finish the scoring for the day. With six seconds left in regulation, quarterback Carl Bonnell heaved a Hail Mary from midfield. Linebacker Desmond Bishop decided to swat the ball down instead of trying to intercept it, but the Bears instead deflected it to wideout Marlon Wood, who caught the ball and dove into the end zone as time expired.
For the second week in a row Cal forgot it is a scoring machine and found itself with only one field goal before halftime. But thanks to tough guy Lynch, who was playing on two sprained ankles, the Bears remained in the hunt for the Pac-10 crown and a shot at a BCS game. Still, the only question most of us want to know about the Bears – can they knock off USC?
Clemson 31, Georgia Tech 7
There is good news and bad news if you are a Clemson fan. The good news is that your Tigers just pulverized Georgia Tech, rushing for more than 300 yards to establish themselves as the class of the ACC. The bad news is, your head coach’s dad failed to beat Boston College in Tallahassee. Because Clemson lost to BC, the Eagles – not the Tigers – are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal Division’s ticket to the ACC championship game. To add insult to injury, Clemson lost to BC in overtime because of a stinkin’ missed extra point.
Boston College still has to play Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland and Miami. Clemson still must deal with Virginia Tech, Maryland and North Carolina State.
Rutgers 20, Pittsburgh 10
Rutgers remained undefeated and reached 7-0 for the first time since 1976. Most importantly, the Scarlet Knights remained in the hunt for the Big East title and a BCS game. The burning question for me is, with West Virginia and Louisville on their schedule, if Rutgers beats both these teams will it have a shot at the national championship?
I’m not sure how that would play out, but I am sure about how good this Rutgers defense is. The Scarlet Knights are ranked No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense, and those kinds of numbers are hard to ignore. But Rutgers is one of the absolute worst passing teams in the country (109th). With Ray Rice at running back – he ran for 225 against Pitt – the Scarlet Knights don’t even want to pass the ball. Like the old Nebraska teams of the 1980s and 1990s, the less they throw the football, the better they are.
Michigan State 41, Northwestern 38 (OT)
What a topsy-turvy year for Michigan State. After blowing a 17-point halftime lead against Notre Dame and an embarrassing home loss to Illinois, you just figured this was not going to be head coach John L. Smith’s year. However, just when things were looking gloomiest, with the Spartans losing to Northwestern 38-3 with fewer than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the football fortunes of MSU changed dramatically.
Two touchdown passes, two touchdown runs and a blocked punt return for a touchdown later Michigan State found itself all locked up with Northwestern – with 3 minutes remaining. Then after an interception, Brett Swenson connected on a 28-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining to give the Spartans the greatest comeback in Division I-A history. Suddenly, that 4-4 record, with losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame, doesn’t look like such a disaster. Two wins the rest of the way probably would put Michigan State in a bowl game and hopefully keep John L. Smith in East Lansing.