Will real Legends and Leaders please stand up?
Legends and Leaders? The Big Ten is running a little short on both this season.
A strange Saturday for the league began with the extremely disturbing news out of Penn State, where athletic director Tim Curley was charged with perjury for failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse against former longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The scandal threatens to envelop one of the conference's squeaky-clean programs and tarnish the big comeback season that Joe Paterno and the 8-1 Nittany Lions are putting together.
Finding legends and leaders on the field has been a problem, too. We already knew the Big Ten lacked elite teams this season, and that fact was hammered home again when its top two ranked clubs fell victim to upsets.
No. 10 Nebraska ceded control of its own Legends Division destiny by losing 28-25 to Northwestern. That's the same Northwestern whose only win since Week 2 came against Indiana and whose three previous victims carry a combined 5-24 record. Yet even after star quarterback Dan Persa went out of the game with a shoulder injury, the Wildcats pushed around the newly bestowed Blackshirts defense. The Cornhuskers have now lost at home to an unranked opponent in each of the past five seasons.
No. 15 Michigan was also tied for first place in the Legends going into the weekend but now needs lots of help. The Wolverines had four cracks from the Iowa 3-yard line in the waning seconds, but Denard Robinson's four pass attempts came up empty in a 24-16 loss. Michigan has made strides under Brady Hoke but still hasn't proved it can win a big-time road game.
That leaves Michigan State -- which trailed in the fourth quarter at home against Minnesota before winning by just seven points -- alone atop the Legends scrum. But the Spartans aren't exactly road warriors, and they still have to go to Iowa, which somehow controls its own path to the Big Ten title game despite losing to Minnesota and Iowa State this season. It's safe to say the country isn't clamoring for an Iowa-Penn State rematch in Indianapolis after squirming through the Hawkeyes' 13-3 loss in State College last month.
On the Leaders side, Ohio State won its third straight game but struggled to shake free of 1-9 Indiana at home until the final minutes. Wisconsin blew out Purdue 62-17, underscoring the potential the Badgers squandered in their two gut-busting road losses.
Parity is making for an unpredictable season and many dramatic games in the Big Ten. The race to Indianapolis in the final three weeks should be full of more wild twists and turns.
But Legends and Leaders? We remain on the lookout for those.
Cowboys survive close call
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Kansas State escaped a fourth down, extended a drive and took a late fourth-quarter lead, its first since early in the second quarter.
All of a sudden, Oklahoma State's high ranking in the BCS appeared in jeopardy, taking the Cowboys' historic spotless record with it. Everyone in the silent stadium knew it.
So did Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. He's not much different from those clad in orange among the record crowd of 59,895 in attendance.
"It all goes through my mind, and honestly, I think any coach who says it doesn't, I think he's just BS-ing you," Gundy said.
Maybe it doesn't for his coordinators, Gundy said, because with all the commotion of calling down to players on the sideline and making adjustments, it gets hectic. But for a man who, during games, mutes his microphone, keeps his mouth shut and lets his coordinators do their jobs, he's got plenty of time to think.
"It goes through my mind. How can it not?" he said. "If anybody says it doesn't, I think they're crazy. Because it just does."
Another week, another puff of air in the high-pressure balloon surrounding Oklahoma State's program. With a pair of late touchdown drives and a last-second defensive stop, Oklahoma State escaped with a 52-45 win over No. 14 Kansas State and will wait until Sunday to grab Alabama's vacated No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after the Crimson Tide lost 9-6 to LSU on Saturday.
Gundy has spent nearly a quarter century as an Oklahoma State player or coach. He's seen a whole lot of Oklahoma State teams blow it and not make that defensive stop when needed. He's seen that untimely turnover derail a season with so much hope when a touchdown was needed.
Saturday, Oklahoma State took that punch in the gut and punched back.
To read the rest of David Ubben's story, click here.
Ducks, Cardinal take care of business
SEATTLE -- In the preseason, it was circled in red ink. And green ink. Oregon's Nov. 12 visit to Stanford. It looked like a potential doozy in August. A game almost certain to have Pac-12 North and Rose Bowl implications. Perhaps even national title implications. But the operative word was "potential." There was a lot of business in advance of it that needed to be taken care of -- nine games, in fact.
As you all are certainly aware, you play only one game at a time.
Well, those other games are over and THE ONE GAME is here, after Oregon made Washington's final game in Husky Stadium an unhappy memorial in a 34-17 victory.
"I'm just excited that now we can say something about them," Oregon QB Darron Thomas said of Stanford.
"The only game we've lost in conference play the last three years is at Stanford," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "Unfortunately, the same kid is playing quarterback. It should be a heck of a game."
Ah, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. And how Stanford and Oregon took care of business on Saturday is telling. Neither had its A-game. But both delivered whippings on the road, with Stanford winning at Oregon State 38-13.
Stanford was expected to roll. The Huskies were supposed to challenge the Ducks. They were supposed to do that because they had an offense that could -- perhaps -- go blow for blow with Kelly's ludicrous speed crew.
Turns out variables were left out of that equation: the defenses, particularly Oregon's.
The Ducks forced three turnovers, sacked Washington QB Keith Price six times and held the Huskies to less than half their season's scoring average (35.6 points). The Huskies' defense mostly played well, considering the Ducks average 526.9 yards and 47.5 points. They had just 381 yards against a Huskies unit that had been yielding 430.4.
But the Huskies' defense couldn't keep up with the Ducks' defense.
"Whether it was our best effort or not, it feels like it right now," defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Don't count out confident Razorbacks
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- There is a quiet storm brewing in Fayetteville.
Behind the scenes of the mega Alabama-LSU game Saturday, Arkansas was busy creeping closer into BCS consideration.
While defensive coordinators around the country watched in astonishment at what was transpiring in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, the Razorbacks were putting on an offensive show at "The Game" outside of "The Game."
With swirling winds through Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas glided up and down the field with its high-powered passing game against a more than solid South Carolina defense on the way to a 44-28 win.
Even with all the talent the Gamecocks possessed on that side of the ball, the Razorbacks were far too much. They were faster and tougher on Homecoming, and the slow starts that plagued them in recent weeks had vanished, as the Razorbacks produced 435 yards of total offense.
Arkansas started fast, scoring first for the first time since the Troy game eight weeks ago, and finished strong, scoring the final 14 points.
"I thought we were the more physical team out on the field," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "That's what we kind of harped on all week long. We had to play physical, play fast, be aggressive. I really felt like we did that.
"Our defense did an excellent job in the first half of completely shutting them down. Offensively, we were able to answer whenever they scored."
While watching Petrino talk about his team, you could hear the confidence in his voice and actually feel the joy he took from defeating the No. 9 team in the country.
He acted as though his team had just done something extraordinary. He admitted there were mistakes, but he talked about how his team battled and how it responded so well to each of those mistakes.
There were the two touchdown drops and the pick-six in the second quarter that could have sent this team reeling and thinking that the mistakes of old were back. But the Hogs didn't fret.
To read the rest of Edward Aschoff's story, click here.
Neuheisel, UCLA on the rebound
PASADENA, Calif. -- First place is a funny spot to find a team that was left for dead.
On top of the world is not exactly where you'd expect to find a coach who was being kicked to the curb just two weeks ago.
UCLA and coach Rick Neuheisel have steadfastly refused to listen to outsiders who have been shoveling dirt on their graves since an embarrassing Oct. 20 loss to Arizona. And after a thrilling 29-28 victory over Arizona State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins now control the race in the Pac-12 South.
UCLA (5-4, 4-2 in conference) is now two games over .500 in conference play for the first time in Neuheisel's tenure and with wins in the final three games would represent the South Division in the Pac-12 title game.
Yes, the same team that went to Arizona two weeks ago and embarrassed itself in a 48-12 loss that had everyone wondering whether Neuheisel would survive that weekend, let alone the season, is now the team to beat.
"It's not about vindication," Neuheisel said. "I enjoy coming to work, I enjoy the guys I coach and I enjoy the staff I coach with. All I want to do is go to work and fix what is broken. Obviously a lot was broken on that Thursday night, and we've worked hard to get it corrected. We're not perfect yet, but we're getting closer to being a good team."
Neuheisel might enjoy coming to work, but if it were up to fans, he wouldn't have been able to do that after UCLA's dismal performance at Arizona. But a funny thing happened to the Bruins as their season was circling the drain -- they rallied and put together consecutive impressive victories.
It wasn't perfect Saturday against Arizona State. The Bruins had crucial turnovers and costly penalties that nullified big plays. But with the bottom about to fall out, they found a way to win with a thrilling final drive. And it is exactly the kind of game that past UCLA teams would have lost.
Credit goes to hitting rock bottom two weeks ago in Arizona.
To read the rest of Peter Yoon's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. In a sport in which braggadocio is the local dialect, the reaction of the LSU players to their 9-6 victory over Alabama used a foreign language. The Tigers spoke with appreciation for their opponents. You expect to hear that from the grownups, like head coach Les Miles, and you did. But the players, tired and sore, did no strutting. "I definitely wouldn't mind not playing them again," free safety Eric Reid said. "That's a tough team. I don't know if I have enough time to recover to play them again." And LSU wouldn't see Alabama for 64 days. That measure of respect is refreshing to hear.
2. Three consecutive narrow victories, the past two on the road, have given Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0) an effective two-game edge in the Big East. One year after the 4-8 debacle in his first season with the Bearcats, head coach Butch Jones is winning like his predecessor, Brian Kelly, did during the Sugar Bowl season of 2009. That team relied on explosive offense. While quarterback Zach Collaros and tailback Isaiah Pead are still playing, the 2011 Bearcats rely on defense (sixth nationally against the run at 87.6 yards per game).
3. The football gods decided not to beat up on Northwestern all season. The Wildcats lost five consecutive games, none of them blowouts, as starter Dan Persa struggled to get healthy and backup Kain Colter learned how to play. It all came together Saturday at No. 10 Nebraska, where Northwestern earned a 28-25 victory that was no fluke. With games left against Rice and Minnesota, the Cats (4-5) have the opportunity to go straight from 2-5 to their fourth consecutive bowl.
GameDay crew final thoughts
It's fascinating to watch how games can take on personalities as teams take advantage of missed opportunities. When Alabama opened the game by moving the ball and LSU did too, at least between the 20s, it looked like it was going to be a bit more offensive-minded than we had thought. But as the game got tighter, and the (play) calls got tighter, it really came down to who could step up and make a big play. And the two guys who made the biggest plays of the game were Eric Reid on the interception and Brad Wing on the 73-yard punt. Games take on personalities, and once it gets close, sometimes it's not necessarily someone making a big play on offense, it's a defensive or special-teams play that makes the difference, and that's exactly what decided that one.
On the flip side, the Kansas State-Oklahoma State game took on an offensive personality, as they are wont to do in the Big 12. Oklahoma State showed a lot of resilience by overcoming a lot of mistakes. It was able to find a way to put enough points on the board to win. Perhaps the biggest thing of all is the much-maligned Oklahoma State defense found a way to get a goal-line stand at the end. So even in a game in which almost 100 points were scored, I guess in some ways you can say that defense still wins championships.
Helmet stickers go to:
• WR Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern
147 receiving yards, one TD in win at Nebraska
• S Eric Reid, LSU
6 tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, forced fumble, interception in win at Alabama
Some conference races became a little bit clearer, while others became a little more confused. I think Cincinnati became the clear leader in the Big East. And in the Big Ten, Penn State, with its open date, looks good. Just a lot of updates each and every week. Kansas State put 45 points on the board against Oklahoma State, which should be the No. 2 team in the country.
You hate to see a guy like Ryan Broyles be lost for the year. I feel bad for him, and I feel bad for Oklahoma and his teammates, but it's all part of the game.
Georgia is in the driver's seat (in the SEC East), but it has to get by Auburn and Kentucky, and that's not the easiest thing in the world to do.
Helmet stickers go to:
• LB Tyler Nielsen, Iowa
13 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 tackles for loss, forced fumble, fumble recovery in win versus Michigan
• RB Derrick Coleman, UCLA
119 rushing yards, 2 TDs in win versus Arizona State
The LSU-Alabama game was exactly what I thought it would be. I felt it would be a very physical game that would come down to one kick here or there. I felt it was one of those games that would have all the players in the cold tub in the morning. I was really surprised that a Nick Saban-coached team made all the mistakes that it made and didn't take advantage of a few things, including (1) field position, (2) special teams and (3) mistakes on special teams. Also, when you have a tight end who is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds against a defensive back and the ball is thrown up for grabs by Marquis Maze in the turning point of the game, you're supposed to come down with that ball. But I thought it was a very exciting game -- even though it was low-scoring. I think it gave everybody who was watching what they were looking for.
Arkansas played exactly as I thought it would at home. Tyler Wilson really stood up there. That game could have been 65-28. The Razorbacks didn't play perfectly at home. They made a lot of mistakes. But down the road, if they can get it all together, they can give LSU some fits when they match up.
Oklahoma State just finds ways to win. I was shocked that Kansas State came out and scored that many points on the Cowboys because the Wildcats are not geared to play in shootouts. They're geared to run the ball with Collin Klein and keep it close in low-scoring games. But somehow they got into a shootout with Oklahoma State, which was another team that made a lot of mistakes. When you've got Justin Blackmon, you shouldn't be making mistakes in the red zone and turning the ball over. That game should've been a blowout, but the bottom line is OSU got the victory, and at the end of the day, it still counts as a W.
Helmet stickers go to:
• CB Andrew Johnson, Louisville
6 tackles, 82-yard blocked FG return for a TD in win at West Virginia
• DB Jon Davis, Air Force
12 tackles, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception in win versus Army
Highlights: K-State-Oklahoma St.
Blog Network: What we learned
Forget the ACC race. Maryland and Boston College have officially played themselves out of postseason eligibility.
Beware of Texas. This team, relying heavily on freshmen, was bound to get a lot better. Now it's building toward a big finish.
West Virginia needs help. The Mountaineers will need to win out and get plenty of help to make it back to a BCS bowl game.
These still aren't your father's Cornhuskers. Nebraska's quest to recapture its glory days continues.
Rick Neuheisel and UCLA are alive! The Bruins' coach is not a man who goes away easily, eh?
If Houston Nutt's time at Ole Miss wasn't nearing a close before Saturday, it probably is now after the loss at Kentucky.
The Notre Dame defense sure knows how to respond when its back is against the wall. The Irish proved it again on Saturday.
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Tom O'Brien; Lamar Miller; Florida State's defense
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Brandon Weeden; Terrance Ganaway; Joe Bergeron
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Teddy Bridgewater; Jeremy Deering; Lyle McCombs
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Montee Ball; Kain Colter; Marcus Coker
More Big Ten stickers
California's defense; Matt Barkley; Derrick Coleman
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Jeff Demps; Aaron Murray; Dennis Johnson
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Jonas Gray; Cierre Wood; Harrison Smith
More Notre Dame stickers