From the championship race to the push for individual honors, the Big 12 got a little bit of a shakeup on Saturday. Texas is out, Oklahoma is on the rise, Geno Smith’s Heisman stock dipped and other potential contenders stepped forward. The one major conference that puts it all on its regular season—no divisional split and league championship game—leads up our discussion of the events from college football week 7.
The Red River Rivalry turned into an Oklahoma Massacre. The Sooners ran all over a young Texas defense that’s getting worse rather than better as the season progresses. OU rushed for 343 yards with Damien Williams having a big day. They built a 36-2 lead by halftime and coasted in to a 63-21 romp, a result that should have Texas coach Mack Brown embarrassed, and BCS voters giving the one-loss Sooners a second look as they prepare for a stretch drive that includes games against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
Although that coming game with West Virginia might not be as a big deal as it seemed. The Mountaineers were not just beaten by Texas Tech, they were mauled, 49-14. Geno Smith didn’t make any mistakes, but he was kept under control by a defense that’s been troubled. Smith was 29/55, a mediocre completion percentage and the 275 yards was nothing special.
Meanwhile, counterpart Seth Doege lit up, throwing for 508 yards and for those of us that have followed him all year long, it’s worth asking whether the Texas Tech quarterback should be considered as a challenger to Smith for Big 12 Player of the Year and ultimately the Heisman.
Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech might be taking turns at lighting up the scoreboard and be in contention for the conference title with one loss apiece. But Kansas State just grinds out wins by playing sound football and remained undefeated with a 27-21 win over Iowa State. The Cyclones were shut down on the ground, K-State got its usual two-threat work from Colin Klein and John Hubert ran for 79 yards. The Wildcats have become the “all they do is win” team of 2012.
Here’s a look at the rest of the country, on a conference-by-conference basis…
Big Ten: Wisconsin finally looked liked the Badger team we got used to over the past few years. They pounded Purdue on the ground, with Monte Ball rushing for 247 yards and James White going for 124, as UW got a 38-14 road win that will make it very tough for them not to win the Leaders Division.
It remains to be seen if Ohio State and Penn State can have bragging rights—the Nittany Lions had a bye week on Saturday while the Buckeyes played a defenseless game against Indiana and won 52-49—but no Wisconsin’s got firm control among the four teams eligible for the conference championship game.
SEC: LSU got a win they had to have over South Carolina. Alabama hammered Missouri, a circumstance made easier by the Tigers playing without starting quarterback James Franklin. But is Mississippi State ready to make the SEC West a three-horse race?
The Bulldogs stayed undefeated in a 41-34 win over Tennessee, a game in which Mississippi State outplayed the Vols to a degree not seen in the final score. The defense kept Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray under firm control and without a special teams touchdown, the Vols wouldn’t be in the game. Mississippi State is now in the discussion in the SEC West.
South Carolina’s loss to LSU means nothing in the SEC East race and probably won’t even matter in the national title picture, given the big games the Gamecocks have ahead of them. The concern Steve Spurrier would have is that the poor run defense his team played is exploited next week against Florida, the biggest game of the college football season to date.
The belief at TheSportsNotebook is that because the rush defense problem was an anomaly that it’s likely attributed to the team being sandwiched between Georgia and Florida and little low on emotion. I’m sure the ‘Ol Ball Coach will sleep better now.
ACC: Duke gave its fans a tease when they jumped on Virginia Tech for a 20-0 first quarter lead in Blacksburg. But the Hokies gave the Blue Devils a lesson about winning big games and how it needs to start with the running the ball. Duke only got 22 rush yards and eventually committed four turnovers. Virginia Tech pounded the ball on the ground, with J.C. Coleman going off for 183 yards. Tech turned it around for a 41-20 win that kept them in the heart of the Coastal Division race.
North Carolina continues to look like the Coastal’s best team, even as they are ineligible due to probation (maybe they need to play the winner of Penn State-Ohio State in some type of Probation Bowl). Giovanni Bernard continues to control games on the ground, looking like a legit ACC Player of the Year candidate and leading the way in a 18-14 win over Miami.
Pac-12: Oregon State sent a loud and clear message that the loss of sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion isn’t going to slow them down. The Beavers won a big non-conference game over BYU behind 332 passing yards from Cody Vaz, their defense picked off Riley Nelson three times and Oregon State pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 42-24 win. Oregon State is still unbeaten at 5-0 and angling to emerge as the main challenger to Oregon for North Division supremacy.
The other contender in the North is Stanford and they played one of the day’s signature games at Notre Dame, losing a controversial 20-13 overtime decision when Stephan Taylor was ruled short of the goal line on fourth down over his protests. Stanford, as they showed against the physical Irish, can play with anyone in the trenches, but mediocre work in the passing game continues to hamper them.
Big East: The Rutgers-Syracuse game provided a clear test about what makes championship teams and what makes disappointments. The Orange moved the ball, threw it over the field and piled up yardage..and also committed four turnovers. Rutgers didn’t dazzle anyone, but they ran and took care of the ball, and consequently won 23-15. It was a Tale of Two Teams and the contrast this game provided will undoubtedly provide fodder for a future Charles Dickens novel. If he were alive anyway.
The Best Of The Rest: Boise State’s 20-10 win over Fresno State was more impressive than the score makes it sound. Boise contained a good running back in Robbie Rouse, holding him to three yards a carry and prevented quarterback Derek Carr from getting the ball to his receivers. Boise ran the ball very well behind D.J. Harper and Jay Ajayi, who combined for 213 yards and had leads of 17-0 early and 20-3 in the fourth quarter.
If anyone’s going to catch Boise in the Mountain West then, the task would have to fall to someone like Nevada or Air Force, but both needed to rally for wins against bad teams. Nevada came back and beat UNLV in spite of not defending the Rebel ground game very well. Air Force had to rally late against hapless Wyoming.
When you look at how both Air Force and Nevada struggled, the natural conclusion is that Fresno is the second-best team in the Mountain West and that Boise beat back its toughest challenger with room to spare.