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November 25, 2007

Ohio State keeps winning without playing

Like an annoying camera hog, Ohio State just keeps getting back into the picture.

In this case, it's the college football national championship picture.

The 11-1 Buckeyes keep winning without playing.

Two weeks ago, then-unbeaten Ohio State appeared to blow its chance to reach the BCS national championship game with a 28-21 home field loss to Illinois.

When the Buckeyes dropped from first to seventh in the BCS standings it appeared they would have to settle for a Big Ten championship after posting a 14-3 victory over rival Michigan in their regular season finale.

But what do you know?

After Oregon and Oklahoma suffered upset losses last week and No. 1 LSU was beaten by Arkansas on Friday, the Big Ten champion Buckeyes figure to climb to No. 3 in the next BCS rankings.

Of course, the third place team doesn't get a trip to New Orleans for the title game. West Virginia and Missouri, which posted crucial victories over successful opponents on Saturday, figure to be ranked first and second when the standings are released Sunday.

West Virginia defeated No. 20 Connecticut 66-21, while Missouri toppled No. 2 Kansas 36-28 to win the Big 12 North Division.

West Virginia faces Pittsburgh next week and Missouri plays Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship. If the Mountaineers and Tigers both win they will meet for the national championship.

However, if either loses, then Ohio State may have a chance to play for the national championship for the second consecutive year.

While the notion of struggling Pittsburgh winning at West Virginia is far-fetched, Oklahoma beating Missouri isn't.

OU defeated Missouri 41-31 earlier this season.

They're singing "Boomer Sooner'' in Columbus.

Team of the week: Arkansas

There's no lack of contenders, but Arkansas has to be the top choice because of all the ramifications of its 50-48 four-overtime victory over LSU in Baton Rouge.

The Razorbacks' win the latest for an unranked opponent over a top-five team this season - knocked LSU out of the national championship picture and gave West Virginia and Missouri golden opportunities to reach the BCS national title game.

It also propelled Arkansas' dazzling Darren McFadden back into Heisman Trophy contention after he rushed for 206 yards and accounted for four touchdowns against LSU's vaunted defense.

Arkansas' record is now 8-4. That may enough to save the job of coach Houston Nutt, whose position is thought to be in jeopardy.

Smith as in Emmitt

The name Smith in Florida football conjures thoughts of Emmitt Smith, but Central Florida running back Kevin Smith is making quite a name for himself, too.

Smith Kevin, that is rushed for 219 yards in a 36-20 win over UTEP on Saturday. He is now the leading rusher in the nation with his 2,164 yards.

Tulane's Matt Forte completed his season last week with 2,127 yards.

Smith's total is the fourth highest single-season total in Division I-A history behind Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders (2,628 in 1988), USC's Marcus Allen (2,342 in 1981) and Iowa State's Troy Davis (2,185) in 1996.

A junior who earlier this year had 217 yards against North Carolina State and 149 against Texas, Smith still has the Conference-USA championship game against Tulsa and a bowl game to boost his numbers.

Help wanted

A day after coach Dennis Franchione resigned rather than be fired at Texas A&M, two more coaches were given the axe.

Nebraska coach Bill Callahan and Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron were also fired after disappointing seasons.

With Michigan coach Lloyd Carr announcing his retirement two weeks ago, that raises the total of high profile programs in need of head coaches to four, and more figure to follow.

There were reports that Kentucky's Rich Brooks may announce his retirement and Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Arkansas' Houston Nutt, Washington State's Bill Doba, Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey and UCLA'sKarl Dorrell, among others, are in danger of being fired.

Ironically, though, Dorrell's Bruins - which upset Oregon 16-0 on Saturday - could still win the Pac-10 championship.

Should the Bruins (6-5, 4-3 in the Pac-10) duplicate last year's feat and upset USC next week - and if Arizona upsets Arizona State - then UCLA would land in the Rose Bowl.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakdown :In falling to Boston College 28-14, Miami finished 5-7 in its first season under coach Randy Shannon and will not appear in a bowl game for the first time in 10 years.

Breakout: South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe scored a touchdown on an 80-yard run on the first play of the second half to jump-start a second half rally that lifted the Bulls to a 48-37 victory over Pittsburgh. USF trailed 14-10 at intermission.

Breakout: USC quarterback John David Booty threw for 375 yards and equaled his career-high with four touchdown passes in the Trojans' 44-24 victory over Arizona State on Thursday night. The 375 yards was Booty's highest output of the season.

Breakdown: Top-ranked LSU was two wins away from playing for the national championship, but the Tigers - who have tempted fate all season - finally couldn't make the play when needed most. LSU had rallied in the fourth quarter to edge Florida, Auburn and Alabama, but fell in triple overtime to likely end its national championship hopes.

Breakdown: Already without starting quarterback Dennis Dixon, who is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, Oregon lost backup quarterback Brady Leaf to injury in the first quarter and the Ducks could not manage any offense from there. Freshmen quarterbacks Cody Kempt and Justin Roper combined to complete just 10 passes and throw three interceptions. A national championship contender before Dixon's injury three weeks ago, Oregon now is unlikely to even get a share of the Pac-10 championship.

Breakout: Tennessee appeared out of the SEC East race after suffering a 41-17 loss Oct. 20 to Alabama. But the Volunteers rallied with four consecutive conference victories, including Saturday's 52-50 four-overtime triumph over Kentucky. Tennessee advances to the SEC championship game to face West Division winner LSU, which now doesn't seem so imposing.

Breakout: Arkansas' Darren McFadden, playing running back and quarterback in the "Wild Hog" formation, exploded back into the Heisman Trophy race by rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns and also throwing a touchdown pass in a 50-48 upset of No. 1 LSU.

Breakout: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow enhanced his Heisman Trophy candidacy by throwing three touchdown passes and rushing for two more in a 45-12 victory over Florida State. It was the ninth game this season in which Tebow has accounted for at least four touchdowns.

Breakdown: After defeating Baylor a month ago, Kansas State needed just one more victory to attain bowl eligibility. Instead, the Wildcats finished with a four-game losing streak and won't participate in the postseason. The final blow came on Saturday with a 45-29 loss to Fresno State, which was the Wildcats' fifth loss in six games on the road.

Breakout: West Virginia rushed for 517 yards en route to a 66-21 blasting of Connecticut, which enabled the Mountaineers to clinch the Big East championship.

Breakdown: The Texas pass defense or lack thereof was shredded for 362 yards and three touchdowns (on all plays of 35 yards or more) by Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee. The Aggies QB had not passed for more than 247 yards in a game this season. The Longhorns had a chance to reach a BCS bowl, but the 38-30 loss to the Aggies will drop them into a lower-tier game.

Breakdown: South Carolina gave up five pass completions (including a 12-yarder on fourth and 4) on a 61-yard, last minute drive that Clemson's Mark Buchholz ended with a game-winning 35-yard field goal. The 23-21 loss was South Carolina's fifth in a row. The Gamecocks were 6-1 and ranked sixth in the nation before a 17-6 to Vanderbilt on Oct. 20 started their collapse.

What you might have missed
Kentucky needed a 35-yard field goal in the second overtime period to defeat longtime nemesis Tennessee, but Dan Williams managed to block Lones Seiber's attempt. Given another chance, Tennessee won the game and the SEC East in four overtimes.
Florida State kicker Gary Cismesia set a school record by converting a 60-yard field goal just before halftime against Florida. It was the longest field goal in Division I-A football this season.
Virginia had a 14-13 lead and the ball at the Virginia Tech 41-yard line with about 30 seconds remaining in the first half, but Hokies cornerback Brandon Flowers intercepted a Jameel Sewell pass with 25 seconds remaining. The Hokies needed three plays to get a 39-yard touchdown pass from Sean Glennon to Eddie Royal to take a 20-14 halftime lead. The Hokies never trailed again.
Oklahoma protected a 21-7 lead in the second quarter with an important goal-line stand in which the Sooners stopped four consecutive Oklahoma State running plays at the 1-yard line.
Stanford kicker Derek Belch missed all four field goals he attempted in a 21-14 loss to Notre Dame. The misses included a 49-yard try that would have given the Cardinal the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
With three touchdown passes against Miami, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan increased his season total to 28 and set a school record. The previous record was held by 1984 Heisman Trophy recipient Doug Flutie, who threw 27 touchdown passes that year.
South Florida returned two interceptions for touchdowns and another to the 1-yard line to set up another score in its second half surge against Pittsburgh. Nate Allen's 38-yard touchdown on a return staked the Bulls to a 27-14 lead. Then Ben Moffitt returned an interception 60 yards to set up a touchdown. Finally, Trae Williams returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown. All three interceptions were off Pittsburgh freshman Pat Bostick.
Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy scored three touchdowns to boost his season total to 14 and break by one Tony Dorsett's school record for touchdowns in a season by a freshman.
BYU quarterback Max Hall completed a 49-yard pass to Austin Collie on fourth-and-18 late in the fourth quarter. That play kept alive a final drive for Harvey Unga's 11-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds remaining in BYU's 17-10 win over Utah.
Southern California defensive end Lawrence Jackson posted four sacks in the Trojans' win over Arizona State. That was the most sacks in a game by a USC player since 1989.
After falling behind 14-3 early, Fresno State scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions to pull away from Kansas State. The Bulldogs' streak of touchdowns, which started in the first quarter, ended in the fourth quarter when Lonyae Miller lost a fumble on first-and-goal at the Kansas State 2-yard line.
Oklahoma State running back Dantrell Savage rushed for 112 yards against Oklahoma to mark his ninth consecutive game with more than 100 yards rushing.
Breakout: Notre Dame freshman running back Robert Hughes ripped off a 45-yard run on the first play of Saturday's game against Stanford. Hughes went on to rush for 136 yards in the Irish's victory. Hughes has gained 246 yards in the last two weeks. Prior to that, he'd rushed for 48 yards all season.

Breakdown: Leading 35-24 at halftime and needing a victory to become bowl eligible, Nebraska's defense gave up 41 points in the second half including 34 in a row in a 65-51 loss to Colorado. The Blackshirts were waving a white flag again. It was the sixth time this year Nebraska has allowed 40 or more points and the second time they gave up more than 60.

Breakdown: Was LSU distracted by the Les Miles-to-Michigan speculation, or did the Tigers get too comfy regarding their potential spot in the national title game. Lloyd Carr's retirement came at the worst time for LSU. The Tigers came out flat against Darren McFadden and Arkansas. Whether it was distractions or dumb mistakes, the Tigers' tendency allow opponents to stay within striking distance this year caught up with them again. Two miscues were glaring: Senior receiver Early Doucet was called for an illegal formation penalty which negated a would-be touchdown catch by Jacob Hester in the second half. The defense wasn't immune either, allowing fullback Peyton Hillis - Arkansas' leading receiver - to be wide open on a fourth-and-10 play in overtime.

Breakout: The Heisman race will be as interesting as it's been in recent years thanks to Darren McFadden's shredding of the LSU defense. Do you go with McFadden, who had a couple of off games? Do you go with the sophomore Tim Tebow, who has had more consistent production? Do you go with the quarterback of a top team, Pat White or Chase Daniel? Or do you rebel from the status quo and pick a nontraditional winner in defensive lineman Chris Long or offensive tackle Jake Long?

Breakout: Other than the number of wins, the statistics from Sylvester Croom's first three seasons at Mississippi State - when he was 9-25 are similar to those posted by this year's team (7-5). The Egg Bowl was no exception. Ole Miss outgained Mississippi State 319 yards to 273, and the two teams were even in the turnover margin. The Bulldogs got an assist when Ed Orgeron went for it on a fourth and 1 on his 49 in the fourth quarter. The play failed and Mississippi State scored 17 unanswered points. Mississippi State is finding ways to win these games.

Breakdown: As Mississippi State has found ways to win, Ole Miss hasn't - which is why Orgeron is looking for a job (albeit probably not for long). Croom, on the other hand, will be a front-runner for SEC Coach of the Year. Had Orgeron's team won a couple of its close calls with Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Georgia and others over the last few years, Orgeron would likely remain employed. After unceremoniously dismissing Orgeron and former coach David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone might have trouble finding a new coach for a program that hasn't won the SEC since 1963 - when Georgia Tech and Tulane were still in the league.

Breakout: How much does that Stanford loss loom for USC right now? The Trojans would be at least in the discussion for the national championship if not for losing to the Cardinal on Oct. 6. With 375 yards and four touchdowns from John David Booty and six sacks from the defense against Arizona State, USC is playing as well as anyone in the country now that many of its key players are healthy (especially Booty and left tackle Sam Baker).

Breakout: A second consecutive win over Texas was a nice sendoff for Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione. The Aggies coach "resigned" following the victory. A&M never let Texas make a comeback. It received 362 passing yards from run-first quarterback Stephen McGee, and Mike Goodson added 154 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Of course, if there were more days like that (and fewer top-secret newsletter), Franchione wouldn't be leaving.

Breakdown: The antithesis of the game in College Station took place in Boulder, where Bill Callahan ended his Cornhuskers tenure with a 65-51 loss to Colorado. Nebraska was outscored 41-16 in the second half. At least the new Nebraska coach will have a quarterback. Joe Ganz passed for 1,399 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions in three starts.

Quote of the weekend

"He was the best college football player in America last year, and he still is this year. If he plays good next week and we win it, he should win the Heisman Trophy."
-- Hawaii coach June Jones on his quarterback, Colt Brennan

"I'm not going to say there's anybody better than Pat White. I think he's the best player in college football. He has my vote."
-- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall on West Virginia quarterback Pat White's Heisman Trophy candidacy.

"If he doesn't win the Heisman Trophy, it's just because of the sophomore thing. But if he doesn't, he should win the next two years."
-- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden on Florida quarterback Tim Tebow

"He's a Heisman Trophy guy. The guy deserves the trophy. It's not right for his name not to be mentioned No. 1 right now."
-- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt on Razorbacks running back Darren McFadden

Stats and Streaks

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing set a school record with 213 passes without an interception. However, his next pass after setting the record was intercepted by Missouri safety William Moore. It was Moore's seventh interception of the season, which tied a Missouri school record.

Auburn defeated Alabama 17-10 to mark its sixth consecutive victory in the Iron Bowl. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville improved to 7-2 against the rival Crimson Tide.

Boston College ended a 15-game losing streak to Miami with a 28-14 victory over the Hurricanes. The Eagles also posted 10 wins for the second straight season.

Tennessee needed four overtimes, but still posted its 23rd consecutive victory over Kentucky. That is the longest active winning streak by one team over another in Division I-A.

West Virginia quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton became only the third set of teammates in Division I-A football to rush for 1,000 yards in the consecutive seasons. They join Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, who did it this year and last year, and Minnesota's Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, who did it in 2003 and 2004.

Georgia captured its seventh consecutive win and sixth in a row over state rival Georgia Tech, 31-17. The loss added to speculation that Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey may be replaced.

Oklahoma freshman quarterback Sam Bradford, who wasn't cleared to play until midway through the week after sustaining a concussion in the previous game, threw four touchdown passes in a 49-17 win over Oklahoma State and set an NCAA freshman record with 32 touchdown passes this season.

Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan threw five touchdown passes in a 39-27 victory over Boise State on Friday night and increased his career total to an NCAA record 126. And he still has two games remaining. The Warriors also ended Boise State's streak of five straight WAC championships.

Maryland posted its first shutout in three seasons and clinched bowl eligibility with a 37-0 thrashing of North Carolina State. It was the first time NC State had been shut out since 1995, a span of 150 games - which was the longest active streak in the ACC.

Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson was sacked 11 times in the Orange's 52-31 loss to Cincinnati.

Duke kicker Nick Maggio missed a 40-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, much to the surprise of his teammates who stormed the field and even doused coach Ted Roof with ice water to celebrate the victory. Instead, the Blue Devils lost to rival North Carolina 20-14 in overtime.

With two interceptions in a 31-17 victory over Vanderbilt, Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith increased his season total to a school-record eight.

All eyes on ...

Next week's ACC championship game will be a rematch of an October Thursday-night thriller. If Boston College and Virginia Tech can duplicate the drama of their first game in Blacksburg, then the championship is a game that shouldn't be missed. Virginia Tech dominated play for 56 minutes of the earlier meeting, but Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the last four minutes, including a game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining.

Southern California, left for dead in the Pac-10 race after losing to Oregon on Oct. 27, can capture its sixth straight conference championship if the Trojans can manage a victory over crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday. USC's three-game winning streak, coupled with back-to-back losses by Oregon, enabled the Trojans to get back in the championship picture. However, UCLA upset USC a year ago.

West Virginia faces rival Pittsburgh in the "Backyard Brawl" next week, but the Mountaineers have much more than regional pride and bragging rights at stake. A victory over the Panthers figures to guarantee the Mountaineers a place in the BCS championship game.

Missouri and Oklahoma meet in San Antonio next week for the Big 12 championship. A victory would clinch Missouri's first conference championship since 1969 and put the Tigers in the BCS national championship game. An OU victory would give the Sooners their second consecutive Big 12 crown and would likely propel Ohio State into the national championship game.

Top Performers
Kevin Smith, Central Florida
46 carries, 219 yards, touchdown in 36-20 win over UTEP
Smith became the nation's second 2,000-yard rusher heading into the Conference USA championship game against Tulsa.
Darren McFadden, Arkansas
32 carries, 206 yards, three touchdowns in 50-48 win over LSU in triple overtime on Friday
Re-entered Heisman race thanks to performance in run game and passing game (3 of 6, 34 yards, touchdown) in upset of No. 1 LSU.
Allen Patrick, Oklahoma
29 carries, 202 yards, two touchdowns in 49-17 win over Oklahoma State
Caries a big performance in the Bedlam game into the Big 12 Championship Game.
Eugene Jarvis, Kent State
34 carries, 196 yards in 30-23 loss to Buffalo
Added three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in a loss.
Pat White, West Virginia
16 carries, 186 yards, two touchdowns in 66-21 win over Connecticut
The quarterback White (107 passing yards, TD) will go to the BCS. Will he play for national title and a Heisman?
Chase Clement, Rice
40 of 66, 541 yards, three touchdowns, interception in 48-43 loss to Tulsa
Not even 700 yards of total offense were enough for Rice against Tulsa.
Colt Brennan, Hawaii
40 of 53, 495 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions in 39-27 win over Boise State
Claimed WAC title and career passing TD record. Is a BCS bowl next?
Joe Ganz, Nebraska
31 of 58, 484 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions in 65-51
Couldn't send Bill Callahan out on high note but does the new Huskers coach have a quarterback?
Paul Smith, Tulsa
22 of 39, 441 yards, five touchdowns interception in 48-43 win over Rice
Five consecutive wins sets up rematch with Central Florida, the last team to beat Tulsa
Ben Mauk, Cincinnati
29 of 42, 431 yards, four touchdowns in 52-31 win over Syracuse
The Wake Forest transfer added a rushing touchdown to cap a career year.
Brennan Marion, Tulsa
Seven receptions, 244 yards, two touchdowns in 48-43 win over Rice
Tulsa's freshman of the week had touchdown catches of 49 and 31 yards.
Antonio Brown, Central Michigan
15 receptions, 174 yards in 35-32 win over Akron
The freshman's day wasn't even the most impressive by a Chippewa (that would be QB Dan LeFevour) in a win that clinched a spot in the MAC title game.
Davone Bess, Hawaii
15 receptions, 181 yards, two touchdowns in 39-27 win over Boise State
Bess has caught 39 touchdown passes from Brennan to tie an NCAA record for a pass-catch tandem.
Jordy Nelson, Kansas State
15 receptions, 165 yards, touchdown in 45-29 loss to Fresno State
The senior's stellar season ends in a loss in Fresno rather than playing in a bowl game.
Mike Williams, Syracuse
Nine receptions, 160 yards, touchdown in 52-31 loss to Cincinnati
At least Syracuse's dismal season included a Williams TD catch in nine consecutive games.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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