Notre Dame & Alabama narrowly escaped with their unbeaten seasons intact. Nebraska narrowly escaped with its path to the Big Ten title still intact. Florida narrowly escaped with its path a BCS at-large spot still intact. But Boise State wasn’t so lucky. The Broncos lost late Saturday night at home to San Diego State, 21-19, and with the defeat saw their hopes of an Orange Bowl bid go up in smoke.
San Diego State has been a team that’s quietly gaining steam in the Mountain West race, but this was really about the inherent shortcomings that this year’s Boise team has. In the end, they just didn’t have the kind of explosive passing attack that could put a team away. Joe Southwick was reasonably efficient at quarterback, completing 20-of-31 passes, but the Aztecs kept everything underneath, holding the Broncos to 164 yards in the air. Then San Diego State won the battle on the ground, getting 127 yards from Adam Muema.
Those of us that follow the mid-major conference races can see an exciting Mountain West race now in play for November. Boise, San Diego State, Fresno & Air Force all have just one conference loss and Nevada is right behind with two losses. For those that only care about the mid-majors to the extent they can impact the BCS bowl projections, the message from Saturday night is simple—Boise is dead, and so is the rest of the Mountain West.
The cause of the mid-majors in general is not gone yet though, as Louisiana Tech keeps sneaking up. The Bulldogs beat UT-San Antonio 51-27 and pushed their record to 8-1. The Bullodgs, led by prolific quarterback Colby Cameron, who tossed three touchdowns in another 300-plus yard performance, are up to #20 in the BCS rankings.
Their situation is the same as Boise’s was last week—they need to gain a few spots in the rankings, and get up to #16. Then they need some help. BCS rules require a team to make the top 12 for automatic qualification—and that’s almost impossible for Tech—but if they are in the top 16 and rank ahead of the champion of a major conference, then automatic qualification kicks in.
Nebraska is currently #16 and has a game with Penn State still ahead. Louisiana Tech could also hope for Wisconsin/Indiana to pull an upset in the Big Ten championship game or for something crazy to happen in the ACC. Bottom line—Louisiana Tech has a shot, although a showdown game in the WAC against Utah State on November 17 is no gimme.
Speaking of the Cornhuskers, they pulled a great escape in East Lansing. Trailing 24-14 in the fourth quarter, then trailing 24-21 and on defense with two minutes to go, Nebraska got the ball back, and scored the winning touchdown with six seconds left. Taylor Martinez rushed for over 200 yards and kept his team tied atop the Big Ten Legends Division with Michigan, a situation where the Huskers hold the tiebreaker.
Georgia continues to lurk under the radar as a possible national title team if we get November chaos and the one-loss teams can get back into the picture. The Bulldogs all but ensured they’ll have a chance to create some of that chaos when they all but clinched the SEC East with a 37-10 win over Ole Miss. After a slow start, Aaron Murray had a big day through the air, 21/28 for 384 yards and four touchdowns. All that stands between the Dawgs and a championship-game date with Alabama is taking care of lowly Auburn.
That brings us to ‘Bama, and with it we’ll also deal with their fellow unbeaten teams at the top of the polls. By all rights the Crimson Tide were finished on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. They trailed 17-14, their pass coverage had been atrocious all night—the previously mediocre Zach Mettenberg lit them up for 296 yards in the air and the Tigers were set to try a field goal with less than two minutes to play. They missed.
It still shouldn’t have mattered the way the Tiger defense was playing, but Les Miles inexplicably went into a soft coverage even though Alabama needed only a field goal to tie. The Mad Hatter, who’d gambled wildly all game along, got ultra-conservative in the worst possible situation. A.J. McCarron marched the Tide down the field with rapid ease and ‘Bama escaped.
Does the narrow escape mean Alabama is overrated? I’ve felt from the start that the Tide are simply one of the group of teams with a chance at being the best, and not indisputably the best, so this doesn’t surprise me. I’m also inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt for this game—in spite of the fact Alabama is clearly a better team than LSU, everything pointed to the Tigers bringing a max effort here—from the revenge factor to prime time. That the game ended up a nail-biter isn’t surprising, but how bad the Alabama pass coverage is did surprise me. Let’s just say Oregon and Kansas State must be salivating.
Kansas State is now #2 in the BCS rankings thanks to its 44-30 win over Oklahoma State, but Oregon moved up to #3 and with three big games ahead of them (Stanford, Oregon State, Pac-12 championship), it’s the Ducks who are presumed to have control of their destiny. I didn’t think they would win at USC, but then again I also thought the Trojans might be able to make an occasional tackle. Oregon running back Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards. How does a nationally reputable program ever allow that to happen?
If you’d told me on Saturday morning that the Trojans would get 92 yards rushing from Silas Redd, I’d have liked my upset pick. Throw in 484 yards in the air from Matt Barkley and I’d have liked it even more. But when Oregon got the ball it wasn’t if they would score, or even if it would be a touchdown—it was just how fast. They produced 730 yards of total offense, won the game 62-51 and left the defense-minded Pete Carroll who built this program’s modern legacy turning over in his grave (at least it would have if Carroll were dead).
Saturday’s results have led me to take Notre Dame out of a projected national title game and move Oregon in. After watching the Ducks on Saturday night, I don’t believe they’ll lose the rest of the way and the experts of the BCS system tell me that will get them to Miami on January 7. And Notre Dame needing a late comeback, a missed field goal and three overtimes to beat Pitt at home doesn’t exactly do a lot in the style points category.
I do have Notre Dame projected to make the Rose Bowl. If you presume an Alabama-Oregon matchup for the title, that gives the Sugar and Rose the first two picks. The Sugar may take the Irish, but if Florida wins out to get to 11-1, I expect that bowl will maintain its SEC connection. But USC’s loss means they won’t look good as a replacement pick for Oregon in Pasadena. If we presume the Trojans won’t win the Pac-12 title that means they would lose a fourth game. The Rose could also choose Oregon State or Stanford in maintain their own league tradition, but with the Irish not having gone west since the 1920s, I think this would be irresistible, as long as the Big Ten opponent isn’t someone they’ve already played.
CURRENT BCS BOWL PROJECCTIONS
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Alabama-Oregon
Rose: Nebraska- Notre Dame
Fiesta: Kansas State- Clemson
Orange: Florida State-Rutgers