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November 16, 2009

Monday with Mike: BCS spots opening up

There never have been two non-Big Six teams in the BCS in a single season, but this could be the year it happens.

USC's loss to Stanford seemingly assures that the Pac-10 is going to have only one team in the BCS this season. The same goes for the ACC. And other than the SEC, no Big Six league looks assured of having two.

That means life sure could be good for TCU -- which likely will gain automatic entry this season -- and Boise State, assuming the Broncos finish unbeaten. Boise State followers likely were Stanford's biggest fans Saturday because USC would've been a BCS lock had it finished 10-2.

By now, everyone should know that the six Big Six champs gain automatic entry into the BCS. A non-Big Six team can lock down a BCS spot in two ways. First is if it finishes in the top 12 in the final BCS standings; the other is if it is ranked in the top 16 and its ranking is higher than that of a conference champion with an automatic berth. This week, TCU is ranked higher than any team from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10.

Only one non-Big Six team is guaranteed automatic entry; the other can be an at-large candidate. The shrinking at-large pool is the thing to keep an eye on. Let's look league-by-league:

ACC: The only league team getting in the BCS will be the champion.

Big East: This league bears watching. It never has received two BCS bids in the same season, but the strong play of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh means it's possible -- though not probable -- this season. If Pitt wins the league, it seems unlikely that Cincinnati has enough cachet to get an at-large spot. If Cincinnati wins the league, that means Pitt will have at least two losses. Would a two-loss Panthers team get bid? That seems unlikely. It looks as if just one Big East team will get in.

Big Ten: Ohio State already has clinched the Rose Bowl bid. Can a 10-2 Iowa team get an at-large spot? A solid performance in a loss at Ohio State keeps the Hawkeyes alive. Iowa will sell a lot of tickets, which is a huge part of getting an at-large bid. If Iowa were to lose its regular-season finale at Minnesota, the Hawkeyes would be out of the running. In that scenario, what about a 10-2 Penn State? Penn State will sell tickets and turn on TV sets. But would a BCS bowl take a Nittany Lions team that lost the only two games that truly mattered if there is an unbeaten Boise State team sitting there in the top five or six of the BCS?

Big 12: The Big 12 champ gets an automatic slot. That looks as if it will be Texas, which will go to the BCS as an at-large entrant if it has just one loss. The only other league team that has a shot is Oklahoma State if it finishes 10-2. But as with a 10-2 Penn State, would a BCS bowl pick an Oklahoma State team over an unbeaten Boise State squad?

Pac-10: The only team getting a BCS bid is the league champ, in the Rose Bowl.

SEC: Alabama and Florida have clinched division titles and spots in the SEC championship game. The only way either would miss out on a BCS at-large spot would be if they lose their regular-season finales to their rivals (Alabama to Auburn and Florida to Florida State) and lose in the league championship game. Even then they might get one.

The thought this week is that Alabama, Boise State, Cincinnati, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas and TCU will be the 10 teams that nab BCS bids.

How about those Mustangs!
We've mentioned SMU a few times in this space this season, but the Mustangs' story continues to get better in June Jones' second season as coach.

SMU is 6-4 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA after Saturday's 35-31 victory over visiting UTEP, which lost despite gaining 627 yards. Equally good news for the Mustangs emanated from Orlando, where UCF upset Houston 37-32. SMU is the only team in the C-USA West Division that controls its destiny in the division race.

SMU clinched Saturday's win when UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe was sacked on fourth-and-6 from SMU's 14 with 26 seconds left.

"You have to throw the ball; you can't take a sack. ... I thought the kid played a heck of a game," Jones told reporters about Vittatoe, who threw for 396 yards and two touchdowns. "I hate that to happen, but I'm glad it happened to him, not me."

Houston beat SMU 38-15 on Oct. 24, which is the Mustangs' only league loss. But Houston has conference losses to UTEP and UCF, giving the Mustangs a one-game lead with two to play. SMU ends the regular season by playing host to an awful Tulane team, which means the Mustangs' trip to Huntington, W.Va., this weekend to play Marshall becomes perhaps the school's biggest game since it came off an NCAA-imposed "death penalty" in 1989.

SMU hasn't been to a bowl since 1984, and a likely landing spot for the Mustangs this season is the Hawaii Bowl. Jones has told reporters that's where he hopes to go bowling. Jones, of course, was hired away from Hawaii after the 2006 season.

Saturday's win was the third in a row for the Mustangs. Two of their losses were by three points in overtime, to Navy and Washington State. The other losses were by 25 points each to Houston and TCU.

As you'd expect from a Jones-coached team, SMU throws the ball well. But defensive improvement has spurred the success this season. SMU ranks just 91st in total defense (402.8 yards per game) and 91st in scoring defense (29.4 points per game). But that's quite an improvement over last season, when the Mustangs surrendered 479.5 yards and 38.2 points per game.

SMU's defensive coordinator is Tom Mason, who was hired off the staff at Fresno State when Jones arrived. Mason oversees a defense that has forced 26 turnovers, which is eighth-most in the nation. The Mustangs have 16 interceptions, which is seventh-most in the nation.

K-State must win to be in
Kansas State's season comes down to next week's home game against Nebraska.

Win and K-State (6-5 overall, 4-3 in the Big 12) is the Big 12 North champion -- and gains bowl eligibility. A loss means K-State finishes second in the division and stays home for the holidays.

The Wildcats have two wins over FCS schools, which means they need seven wins for bowl eligibility. Thus, the quasi-fascinating scenario for next weekend whereby K-State must win the division title to become bowl eligible.

Grid bits
Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount was reinstated last Monday, but he didn't play in the Ducks' victory over Arizona State on Saturday night. The crowd at Autzen Stadium chanted "We want Blount" on several occasions in the second half, and the PA announcer mistakenly said Blount was entering the game late in the fourth quarter (it was backup Remene Alston). Alston was one of four tailbacks who played for the Ducks.

Staying with running backs, Southern Miss' Damion Fletcher ran for 55 yards in the Golden Eagles' 27-20 victory over Marshall. That gives him 789 yards for the season, with at least two games left. He is trying to become just the eighth player in major-college history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Southern Miss became bowl eligible with the victory, so Fletcher likely will have three more games to get to the 1,000-yard plateau. His worst season was when he ran for 1,313 yards last season. Meanwhile, Arkansas State's Reggie Arnold had just 18 yards in the Red Wolves' loss to Florida Atlantic. As with Fletcher, Arnold is trying to run for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He has a lot of work to do: He has rushed for just 510 yards and has three games left.

Saturday's rout of Washington improved Oregon State to 7-3 on the season and 5-1 since Oct. 1. The improved play after the end of September is nothing new for the Beavers under coach Mike Riley, whose team now is 27-6 in the past four seasons after the calendar flips from September to October. Riley is in his seventh season in this go-round at Oregon State. He has lost 31 games, with 15 of those losses coming in September. In those seven seasons, he is 41-16 after Oct. 1.

Texas A&M dropped to 5-5 with Saturday's loss to Oklahoma. Give the Aggies credit: When they lose, they really lose. Saturday's setback was by a 65-10 score, the second time this season they were beaten that badly; the other was a 62-14 loss at Kansas State. It's the first time in school history A&M has given up 60 points twice in a season. In their five losses this season, the Aggies have surrendered an average of 49 points per game; in their five wins, that number is 19 points per game. They have games left against Baylor and Texas.

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris tossed four more interceptions in the Hurricanes' loss at North Carolina, giving him 16 for the season. That number leads the nation; it is one more than thrown by Miami University's Zac Dysert. Harris has thrown three touchdown passes and eight picks in Miami's three losses; he has thrown 16 touchdown passes and eight picks in Miami's seven victories. Miami's defense has allowed 30 points four times this season; three of them have been in the losses, when Miami's turnover margin is minus-6.

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy won his 42nd game as a starting quarterback Saturday in the Longhorns' rout of Baylor, tying him with former Georgia standout David Greene for the most wins in major-college history. McCoy has a chance for four more wins; Texas has regular-season games left against Kansas and Texas A&M, should play in the Big 12 championship game and will be in a bowl. That gives McCoy a shot at 46 wins. That would be an average of 11.5 victories per season, and it's hard to imagine that ever would be broken.

Wake Forest has been to a school-record three bowls in a row, but that streak will end this season because the Demon Deacons can finish no better than 5-7. The three-year streak is remarkable for Wake, which never had gone to back-to-back bowls in its history before this three-season run started. As good a coach as Jim Grobe is, you wonder if Wake is going to go back to having to overachieve to become bowl eligible. Two of this season's wins have come over ACC bottom-feeders Maryland and N.C. State. Another was over FCS member Elon. While there's an impressive victory over Stanford, there also are close losses to Navy, Boston College, Miami and Georgia Tech -- and that was with an experienced senior quarterback in Riley Skinner. Wake needs to be able to effectively run the ball to contend in the ACC, and improving the rushing attack needs to be an offseason priority for Grobe and his staff.

Four Big Six schools didn't have any Big Six schools on their non-conference schedules. All four -- Ole Miss, Texas, Texas Tech and Wisconsin -- are bowl eligible. And seven schools have eight home games this season. That didn't help N.C. State or Syracuse, which won't be bowl eligible. Michigan and Tennessee still need one more win apiece to become bowl eligible. The other three schools in this category -- Auburn, Oklahoma State and Penn State -- are bowl-bound.

This was supposed to be a good season for Kansas, but it has turned into a nightmare. The Jayhawks started 5-0 and looked to be a legit contender in the weak Big 12 North. But KU has since lost five in a row, including a 31-17 setback at Nebraska on Saturday. The culprit has been a pitiful rushing attack. In the five losses, KU has rushed for a total of 303 yards -- that's 60.6 yards per game. Quarterback Todd Reesing hasn't been able to overcome the lack of a competent running game, as he has thrown just five TD passes (and five picks) during the losing streak. To become bowl eligible, Kansas must beat either Texas this week or Missouri next week. The Jayhawks are attempting to go to three consecutive bowls for the first time in school history.

Overlooked a bit in the beatdown that Stanford administered to USC was that the loss was just the second for the Trojans in their past 49 home games. The last home loss had come in 2007 -- to Stanford.

Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes had 10 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' 35-14 victory over Miami University on Thursday. It was his seventh game this season with double-digit receptions, and he has 117 catches this season. The major-college record is 142 by Houston's Manny Hazard in 1989. Bowling Green has two games left, and Barnes actually needs to turn it up a notch. He averages 11.7 catches per game, which would leave him two receptions shy of the record if he hits his average the rest of the way. The Falcons' remaining games are against Akron and Toledo, which are 29th and 108th, respectively in the nation in pass defense.

It's extremely likely that not many people noticed that Wyoming beat San Diego State 30-27, rallying from a 27-6 second-half deficit. The victory was the fifth of the season for the Cowboys, who are led by first-year coach Dave Christensen. Wyoming plays host to TCU this week, which likely will be a loss, but closes the season with a game at reeling Colorado State. Wyoming needs one more win for bowl eligibility; the Cowboys have gone bowling once since 1993. In their five wins this season, the Cowboys have averaged 31.2 points; in their five losses, they have averaged 4.0 points and been shut out three times.

The NCAA Division II playoffs kicked off Saturday with eight first-round games; the worse-seeded team won five of them. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in each of the four regions received first-round byes.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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