Taking stock of the BCS race
No. 6 Alabama came into the weekend casting a large shadow over the teams ranked above it despite its one loss. The Crimson Tide turned out to be a shadow of the team that won the crystal football a year ago. After the 24-21 loss at No. 10 LSU ended the Tide's chance to repeat, the lyric to "Yea, Alabama!" now is "Remember the Rose Bowl? We won then."
No. 5 Utah, instead of making its third trip to the BCS in seven seasons, is left to gather itself after being humiliated at home by No. 3 TCU. The Utes likely will stop over at the Las Vegas Bowl on their way to membership in the Pac-12 Conference.
But where does that leave the rest of us?
November, the cruelest month on the college football calendar, announced its arrival Saturday. Utah and Alabama are gone. Oregon, Auburn, TCU and Boise State remain the only FBS teams with perfect records. LSU, Stanford, Wisconsin and Ohio State hover close by, waiting for calamity to befall the unblemished.
The 12-game season peels away teams like so many artichoke leaves. The closer you get to the heart, the more meat there is to enjoy. No. 1 Oregon is the meatiest of them all. The Ducks have won all nine games by double-digit margins, eight of them by 20 or more points. Oregon doesn't have a dud among its three remaining opponents (at California, where the Bears are 4-0; No. 15 Arizona; at archrival Oregon State).
No. 2 Auburn will see its substantial BCS margin over No. 3 TCU shrink faster than a $5 T-shirt. The Tigers and the Horned Frogs each won routs Saturday. However, TCU did at No. 5 Utah what Auburn did to FCS opponent Chattanooga. The Horned Frogs' utter dominance in their 47-7 rout of the Utes should resound well among voters and computer ratings alike.
This is likely as close as TCU will get to overtaking Auburn without a Tigers loss. TCU will play San Diego State (7-2) next week. But it comes as little solace to know that TCU's final opponent, New Mexico, on Saturday became the 119th of the 120 FBS teams to win a game.
However, what the Horned Frogs may have accomplished Saturday was to establish their bona fides as a team worthy of the BCS Championship Game. That's a given for the Oregons and the Auburns. It's not for the TCUs and the Boise States. The Broncos, who have carried the banner of the non-automatic qualifying teams for nine months, have been upstaged by the team they defeated in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago.
With four weeks remaining, Boise State and TCU are in good position. None of the remaining one-loss teams is in position to overtake them. Neither Oregon nor Auburn is guaranteed anything. The Tigers have the tougher road of the top two teams. A victory over Georgia in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday would clinch the SEC West for Auburn and, in turn, would provide another game against a difficult opponent. If you are an optimist, the SEC championship game is another opportunity for the Tigers to make their case to play for the BCS title.
Should all four undefeated teams finish the season that way, and Oregon and Auburn play for the crystal football, either TCU or Boise State would automatically qualify for one of the four at-large bids. The other one almost certainly would be selected by one of the bowls. That would leave two BCS berths to be filled by conference runners-up.
No. 10 LSU is in prime position for a BCS bid. Normally, a one-loss SEC team could make a case to play in the national championship game. However, LSU won't be so much as a division champion unless Auburn loses its next two games. Should Auburn make it to the BCS Championship Game, the Sugar Bowl would love to have LSU in the Superdome. Geography helps the Tigers.
Geography works against No. 13 Stanford, which almost certainly will rise in the BCS standings after taking apart No. 15 Arizona 42-17. The two BCS bowls closest to Stanford may not be able to invite it. If the Rose Bowl loses either the Pac-10 champion or the Big Ten champion to the BCS Championship Game, that berth will be filled by any non-AQ team that, in fact, does qualify for a BCS berth. That would be undefeated TCU or undefeated Boise State.
The Fiesta Bowl also will have a problem inviting Stanford. The luck of the draw has the Fiesta Bowl getting the last pick from the at-large pool. That almost certainly will be the champion of the Big East. My colleague Brian Bennett described the Big East standings as palindromic. The top seven teams in the eight-team league have three or four losses. The Big East champ will be embraced with the level of warmth afforded the Democratic Party last week.
That leaves either the Sugar or the Orange Bowl to face the prospect of inviting a small, private university at least 2,000 miles away. Not even an 11-1 record, a top-10 rating and the possibility of having quarterback Andrew Luck may overcome Stanford's inability to fill a stadium and hotel rooms. Stanford may have to hope that a Sugar Bowl that invites LSU would be confident enough of its ticket sales to invite the Cardinal.
There's also the possibility that the Big Ten will finish with at least two 11-1 teams from among No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 14 Michigan State. One of them, or No. 16 Iowa (7-2), will go to the Rose Bowl as conference champion. Only once in 12 seasons has a Big Ten team with one loss failed to receive a BCS bid (Wisconsin, 2006). In a season in which TCU and Boise State remain firmly in the national championship race, precedent may not count for much.
Dalton comes up big when it matters most
SALT LAKE CITY -- Andy Dalton leads the nation in career wins for a quarterback, but he had picked up a strange label: Some people had screamed that Dalton could not win the big game.
They pointed to his subpar performance in the Fiesta Bowl last year against Boise State, in which he threw three interceptions. They pointed to his performance against Utah in 2008, when he threw two interceptions and completed 43 percent of his passes.
So Saturday's 47-7 win over Utah was not only a statement win for TCU. It was also a statement win for Dalton, one of the more underrated players in the nation. Dalton has won 39 games, but this one, well, it was pretty special.
"This is one of my favorite games to ever be a part of," Dalton said. "This ranks up there with all of them."
Dalton had plenty of motivation going into this game. The motivation that his team had never won in Salt Lake City in three previous tries. The motivation over the way his team lost here in 2008 and the way he played. The motivation that he needed to do something to prove his team deserves to be in the national championship conversation.
Dalton generally helps TCU with his arm and his legs. But there was no need to be a scrambling man against Utah. TCU came out throwing, and Dalton had his way. He threw for a career-high 355 yards, including a career-long 93-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce.
With 270 more yards, Dalton will set the Mountain West career mark for total offense.
"You have to give him a lot of credit," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "The guy's won a lot of ballgames. Today, for the most part, he was perfect."
Dalton has been close to perfect in several games this season, completing 80 percent of his passes in three games. He has been on a tear since Oct. 2, with 14 touchdowns to one interception.
But he did something more important Saturday. He proved he can play big in a big game, once and for all.
Elite level eludes Big 12
The Big 12 took a daylong look in the mirror on Saturday, but it couldn't have liked what it saw staring back: a whole lot of bowl teams and not many -- if any -- elite teams.
Three of the league's top four teams took to the road. Only one -- Nebraska -- returned home a winner, and the Huskers had to get an assist from a botched fake extra point in overtime to do it.
Oklahoma got outplayed by Texas A&M and was haunted by recurring issues, namely poor starts and a failure to gain the toughest yard in football, the last one over the goal line.
Missouri curiously failed to score in the second half against one of the worst pass defenses in the country, with quarterback Blaine Gabbert turning in one of the worst performances of his career in a loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock.
The past three seasons, the Big 12 has had a team or two sitting at the grown-ups' table on Thanksgiving weekend or later for the national title conversation. Oklahoma and Texas advanced in 2008 and 2009. Missouri lost in the Big 12 title game as the country's No. 1 team in 2007.
This year? The only teams left with just one loss -- Nebraska and Oklahoma State -- will need a boatload of help to get any serious consideration for a national title game spot, and both still have challenging road tests ahead. Nebraska must play at Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State travels to Texas next week. The defending league-champion Longhorns are by themselves at the bottom of the Big 12 South, but they're also the only team to beat Nebraska, currently the highest-ranked team in the Big 12, this year.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy gets it, and that was before any of the road wackiness ensued on Saturday afternoon and night.
"We're not good enough to look past anybody," he said. "We're vulnerable in certain areas."
I can't remember, though, was he talking about his own team or the entire Big 12?
Fantastic finish, but what about the start?
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno broke the news to Matt McGloin on Monday.
Paterno had a clear message: Rob Bolden will start, but be ready. Although McGloin was on the field for the end of Penn State's previous two victories, Bolden had been the starter before suffering a concussion against Minnesota, and players shouldn't lose their jobs because of injury.
"I didn't complain at all," McGloin said. "I just stayed focused, mentally prepared myself as if I was starting and just got ready to play. It paid off tonight."
It paid off to the tune of 225 pass yards and four touchdowns Saturday against Northwestern. It paid off with McGloin leading five consecutive Penn State touchdown drives, as the Nittany Lions recorded the largest home comeback under coach Joe Paterno, who won his 400th career game because of the rally.
But did McGloin's performance pay off with the starting job for Penn State? We'll have to wait and see.
"I had gone into the game with the idea that Bolden deserved a chance," Joe Paterno said. "You would hate to drop a kid because he was hurt. But [McGloin] has practiced well, he's worked hard, he hasn't pouted or griped. He deserved a shot."
Bolden didn't play after taking a big shot from North western's Hunter Bates and fumbling the ball late in the first quarter. Paterno said the freshman wasn't hurt and that he simply wanted to use McGloin, who provides "a little different pace."
"Bolden is going to be an outstanding quarterback," Paterno said. "He's got a good arm. He's got a lot of poise. [Quarterback] has turned out to be a good position for us."
What happens next for Penn State?
Bolden is still considered the team's future. It took him just a few days in preseason camp -- Bolden didn't enroll early -- to outshine both McGloin and Kevin Newsome en route to winning the starting job for the opener.
Bolden has all the tools and the pedigree as an elite recruit. McGloin is a former walk-on whom few outside the program considered a realistic candidate for the starting job.
But McGloin's intangibles are off the charts, and his confidence has skyrocketed the past two weeks before the home faithful at Beaver Stadium.
"There's nothing better," McGloin said. "Throwing a touchdown pass, you look around, and there's 110,000 people screaming."
Quite a few of those folks will be screaming for McGloin to be the starter this week at Ohio State.
Saturday's BCS impact
Three weekend observations
1. Virginia Tech did Boise State no BCS favors when the Hokies followed their season-opening loss to the Broncos with a loss to FCS foe James Madison. But now Virginia Tech is rubbing it in. The Hokies, since their 0-2 start, have won seven consecutive games and established themselves apart from the rest of the ACC. Yet the Hokies, only 22nd in last week's BCS ratings, don't figure to climb a whole lot when the new ratings are released Sunday night. That means Boise State beat a very good team after all but still gets no credit.
2. I'm not picking on Texas, which is 4-5 and sprinting backward after the 39-14 loss at Kansas State. But one of you asked whether the Longhorns might have the worst follow-up season by a team that played for a national championship the previous season. In the BCS era, that distinction belongs to the 2002 Nebraska Huskers, who finished 7-7. Before that, the closest comparison is to Michigan State in 1967, which went 3-7 after finishing second in the final poll the previous season.
3. It would have been easy for Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier to pout. Forcier started last season as a freshman. He spent the first half of the 2010 season obscured by the blinding spotlight on his replacement, Denard Robinson. On Saturday, the Wolverines, losers of three straight, teetered on the edge of making it four. Forcier replaced a banged-up Robinson, threw for 114 yards and two scores, and led Michigan to a triple-overtime, season-saving, maybe-coach-saving victory over Illinois. He's made of solid stuff.
Joe Paterno wins No. 400
'GameDay' crew final thoughts
This was a great week for Michigan. It settled its probation case with the NCAA and became bowl-eligible for the first time under Rich Rodriguez. It was a huge win over Illinois, but it was a frustrating one as well. The offense is back to a championship level, but the defense is an embarrassment to the proud tradition of Michigan football. The program has made some huge strides, but to return to the level of the elite, it has to correct that defense. Also, although it's a fluid situation every week, I think right now Stanford is the best one-loss team in the country.
Helmet stickers go to:
• LB Michael Hodges, Texas A&M
19 tackles, 2 sacks in win vs. Oklahoma
• QB Andy Dalton, TCU
Career-high 355 passing yards, 3 TDs in win vs. Utah
Boise State and TCU were the two most impressive teams I saw Saturday. Every week, you don't know what's going to happen from a team perspective, but one thing is for sure: You will see some truly outstanding individual performances. This week was no different.
Helmet stickers go to:
• Joe Paterno, Penn State
Earned 400th career win vs. Northwestern
• QB Kellen Moore, Boise State
Career-high 500 passing yards, 3 TDs in win vs. Hawaii
The most impressive teams I saw Saturday were TCU and Oregon. TCU went on the road and thrashed a highly ranked Utah team by 40 points. Oregon struggled for most of the first half but still scored 50 points. And how about LSU beating Alabama? It wasn't just that LSU won, but it was the way the Tigers won. You have to give it to Les Miles and LSU's coaching staff. They had a terrific game plan, and the team was well-prepared.
Helmet stickers go to:
• DT Drake Nevis, LSU
7 tackles, 1 sack, forced fumble, pass deflection in win vs. Alabama
• QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Career-high 435 passing yards, 3 TDs in win vs. Baylor
Blog Network: What we learned
Although the Coastal Division is Virginia Tech's to lose, it seems no team wants to win the Atlantic Division.
Parity rules the day once again in the Big 12, as Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Iowa State proved they're capable of competing with the league's best.
South Florida and Louisville got back on track with wins on Saturday, but Pitt remains firmly in the driver's seat in the league title race.
The defense remains a sight for sore eyes, but Michigan's offense just might save Rich Rodriguez's job.
Oregon proved it can win with its B-game, while Stanford showed it's ready for prime time.
With Alabama's loss, Auburn cemented its status as the premier BCS title contender in the SEC, but don't sleep on LSU.
With convincing wins over quality competition, Boise State and TCU proved their worth on the national stage.
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.
Les Miles on LSU's win
Odds & ends
• The "must go for two-point conversion in triple OT" rule might be the only reason Michigan and Illinois aren't still playing. During Michigan's 67-65 triple-overtime win over Illinois, the two teams put up 1,237 total yards of offense, the most in a Michigan game in school history -- a history that dates back to 1879. The 132 combined points are the most among two Big Ten teams in conference history and the most in any FBS game this season. Michigan has now allowed 40-plus points in back-to-back games (allowed 41 to Penn State last week) for the first time in school history.
The Wolverines have allowed 106 points in their past two games. Back in 1997, when Michigan last won the national title, the Wolverines allowed 114 points all season. The 65 points scored by Illinois in the losing effort were two shy of the FBS record of points in a losing effort. Nevada lost to Boise State 69-67 in 2007.
• In Kansas' 52-45 win over Colorado, the Jayhawks scored 35 unanswered points after trailing 45-17 early in the fourth quarter. The 35 points were the second-most that a winning team has scored in the fourth quarter in FBS history. In 1990, BYU scored 36 points to rally to beat Washington State. Kansas had scored 35 points in a single game one previous time this season (42-16 over New Mexico State).