Keyed by the huge effort of talented sophomore RB Ryan Grant (30 carries for a career-high 190 yards), Notre Dame remained unbeaten with a 21-14 victory over Air Force on Saturday. This sets up a showdown in Tallahassee this Saturday, when Florida State plays host to the Fighting Irish.
After a loss in the rain at Louisville and a missed field goal that would have won the game at Miami, the Seminoles and coach Bobby Bowden have been looking for just such a scenario.
After all, going toe-to-toe with defending national champion Miami -- and nearly coming away with a victory on the Hurricanes' home field -- made quite a statement, even though the 'Noles came up just short.
What really hurts my argument about Florida State belonging in the nation's elite was the loss to Louisville on a rainy Thursday night in late September. Since then, the Cardinals have struggled against 2-5 Memphis and lost to TCU 45-31 at home on Saturday.
However you look at it, there's no denying that the Seminoles have the talent necessary to battle to the final horn against any team in the country, even if they might end up being ranked below a number of teams they would be favored over. And guess what -- that's the case with the polls again this week.
By having a game go to an extended overtime, statistics become grossly distorted, lessening their importance and giving an inaccurate read on what really went on during regulation time.
With all that said, the most disturbing problem with the overtime system to me is the wear and tear it puts on the players.
Keep in mind, college football games routinely go over three hours, with many extending to 3½ hours or even longer. A lengthy overtime results in games having the potential of lasting for four-plus hours. The seven-overtime, 58-56 game won by Arkansas over Ole Miss last year went a record 4:14, which is the longest game in the history of college football.
But at the end of regulation, the score of that game was 17-17. Eli Manning threw one TD pass in the 60 minutes of regulation, yet finished the game with six TD passes (i.e., five in OT, thanks at least in part to starting each OT possession on the 25-yard line). Former Arkansas LB Jermaine Petty was forced to take part in a total of 95 plays.
I've listened to the argument that a high percentage of injuries occur on special teams, so by eliminating this part of the game, players have a better opportunity to remain at full strength. While this may be true, it's the cumulative effect of all the punishment these kids are forced to endure that should be the cause for concern. History has also shown that teams, for the most part, have a difficult time bouncing back or recovering quickly from such an extended overtime.
With all this said, there should be no question that the NFL overtime format is by far the most viable system to bring a game to a conclusion. Dave Revsine, my partner on College GameDay on ESPN Radio, argues (as some do) that both offenses should be guaranteed at least one possession. My answer to this is WHY?
If your special-teams kick coverage unit and defense can't get the job done, then so be it. And how about the fact that in NFL overtime games, only 27 percent of the time does the team that wins the toss move downfield for the winning score without allowing a possession for the other offense.
Critics of the NFL system argue that one such time is too many. And as Revsine points out, how can I argue that special teams can't be eliminated, yet have no problem with a system that 27 percent of the time doesn't allow an offense to take the field.
It's simple. The college overtime system completely takes away any opportunity for a kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return or punt block. The NFL system allows for a normal game to take place, with absolutely no elimination of any facet of the game. If you lose the coin toss, it's up to your kick-coverage unit and defense to step up and get the job done.
In the Detroit Lions' 23-20 overtime victory on Sunday over Chicago, Paul Edinger's kickoff went out of bounds and allowed the Lions to begin possession at the 40-yard line, eventually setting up a game-winning, 48-yard Jason Hanson field goal. So while the Bears' offense never touched the football, it was a special-teams mistake -- and the inability of the Bears defense to contain RB James Stewart -- that led to their downfall. In the Broncos' exciting 37-34 overtime victory over the Chiefs on Sunday, both offenses had an opportunity, with a blocked punt proving to be the key play in the game.
In the college overtime format, none of this is possible.
All I can say is this: If college football doesn't see a reason to change to the NFL format, then just go back to letting games end in a tie. What's so bad about that?
In fact, some of the most memorable and most talked-about games in college football history ended in ties, including: Army-Navy (21-21 in 1926), Pitt-Fordham (0-0 in 1935, 1936 and 1937), Army-Navy (21-21 in 1948), Notre Dame-Michigan State (10-10 in 1966), Syracuse-Auburn (16-16 in 1988 Sugar Bowl) and Florida-Florida State (31-31 in 1994).
The NFL's overtime system is 1,000 percent better than the one used in college football.
And think about the intrigue that would go along with not having an overtime format. If a team trails by seven and scores a TD in the final seconds, does a coach elect to go for two or kick the PAT for the tie? And in a tie game with the clock winding down, what strategy would teams use? Are they aggressive in their play-calling, depending on field position, or do they opt to run out the clock and settle for the tie?
The bottom line is this: In any overtime system, there will be dissenters and critics. But I strongly believe that the NFL's overtime system is 1,000 percent better than the one used in college football.
In reality, though, as I've chronicled, you could argue that the best scenario is to play only the 60 minutes of regulation -- and if the game ends in a tie, so be it. There would be significantly more intrigue, strategy, decision-making, potential controversy and excitement as games wind to their conclusion.
BLUE DEVILS GIVE SCARE TO WOLFPACK
In my college football previews last Wednesday, I talked about the improvement in Duke's personnel base this season. But I never expected such a competitive game to develop Saturday when coach Carl Franks' Blue Devils traveled to Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to take on the 10th-ranked and unbeaten N.C. State Wolfpack.
The Blue Devils earned more first downs that N.C. State, finished with nearly 400 total yards on offense and limited N.C. State's outstanding overland attack -- featuring super blue-chip freshman T.A. McLendon -- to an average of just 3.0 yards per carry. Still, the Wolfpack eked out a 24-22 victory.
It will be interesting to see how the Blue Devils fare Saturday when they host surging Maryland, which is coming off an impressive victory Thursday night against Georgia Tech.
TROJANS LOOM FOR IRISH
When you list college football's coach-of-the-year candidates, Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham obviously leads the way for the incredible job he's done thus far in South Bend. An Irish squad that was expected to be no better than 6-6 or 7-5 overall now sits at 7-0.
Standing in the way of an unbeaten season for Notre Dame is not only Florida State this Saturday but also USC later. Coach Pete Carroll has done an outstanding job with the Trojans, certainly deserving to be near the top of the coach-of-the-year list. The Trojans moved to 5-2 on the year with their impressive 41-21 victory over Washington on Saturday. Senior QB Carson Palmer has stepped up his performance this season, benefiting from the superior freshman campaign of 6-foot-5, 210-pound WR Mike Williams.
Against Washington, Palmer threw for 348 yards and four TDs, and the gifted Williams hauled in nine passes for 159 yards and three TDs that covered 43, 14 and 11 yards.
Considering that every team on USC's schedule (with the exception of Stanford) currently has a winning record, the Trojans have accomplished a great deal to reach their 5-2 record. And they must deal with a challenging slate the rest of the way.
This week, the Trojans face Oregon, which figures to be in an angry mood after being knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten on their home turf by steadily improving Arizona State. Coach Dirk Koetter's Sun Devils moved to 6-2 with their exciting 45-42 come-from-behind victory over the Ducks. This week, Arizona State hosts Washington on homecoming day at Sun Devil Stadium.
Sun Devil QB Andrew Walter, just a sophomore, was on fire against the Ducks, as coach Mike Bellotti's defense had no answer for ASU's dynamic aerial circus. Walter fired strikes all over the field to a variety of receivers. He ended the day with a remarkable 536 passing yards, with exceptional junior Shaun McDonald proving to be his favorite target (12 catches for a mind-boggling 204 yards and one TD).
ASU freshman wideout Derek Hagan looks like a budding star (five catches for 95 yards). Plus, senior Justin Taplin, sophomore Daryl Lightfoot, redshirt freshman Matt Miller and physically gifted senior TE Mike Pinkard all made significant contributions.