Originally Published: November 7, 2010

Taking stock of the BCS race

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

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."

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John Reed/US PresswireAuburn's BCS margin over TCU likely will shrink, but barring a loss, the Tigers remain on track for the championship game.

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.

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Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStanford is improving its BCS fortunes, but it's hard to predict where Andrew Luck and the Cardinal will end up if they win out.

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

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

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.

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Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireTCU QB Andy Dalton had a career day in the Horned Frogs' 47-7 win over Utah.

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

By David Ubben
ESPN.com

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.

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Charles LeClaire/US PresswireMatt McGloin stepped in for Rob Bolden and tossed four touchdown passes to fuel Penn State's comeback win over Northwestern.

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?

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

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.

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