Familiar feeling creeping in
It is starting to feel a lot like 2007 in college football, one of the wildest, wackiest, most unpredictable seasons we have seen in recent memory.
Take a trip in the DeLorean to a time when nobody seemed to want to play for a national championship. Sound familiar? Now that three straight No. 1 teams have lost, many are beginning to wonder whether anybody even wants to be the top-ranked team in the country this season.
Oklahoma followed Ohio State and Alabama before it on a rainy Saturday night in Columbia, bumbling its way to a 36-27 loss to host Missouri. The undefeated Tigers have a huge test next weekend at Nebraska, but are in position to make up for their own collapse in 2007, when they went into the Big 12 championship game as the No. 1 team in the nation needing only to win to secure their spot in the title game.
Instead, they lost to said Sooners -- their second loss to Oklahoma that season. That same weekend, No. 2 West Virginia stunningly lost to a bad Pittsburgh team 13-9, opening the way for a two-loss LSU team to play for the national championship.
That was the one and only time a two-loss team has played for the national title. In fact, seven of the top 10 teams in the final 2007 BCS standings had two losses. Every article that talked about a No. 1 or No. 2 team going down talked about the wild unpredictability of the season. Sort of like today.
But the probability of another two-loss team playing for the national title might not be as high this season because of the non-automatic qualifiers standing in the way. That season, an undefeated Hawaii finished ranked No. 10 in the BCS standings.
But this season, No. 3 Boise State and No. 5 TCU have proved to be formidable contenders, and every loss by a No. 1 team only helps their cause. With the way no dominant team has emerged, the argument against their inclusion in the national championship picture loses more and more steam. Why? Because the alternative has looked so much more convincing.
One and done
Missouri knocked off top-ranked Oklahoma, giving the Tigers only their second win in the past 21 meetings with the Sooners. It's the first time they've beaten OU coach Bob Stoops in eight tries. Oklahoma becomes the third team in the BCS era (i.e., since 1998) to be the season's initial BCS No. 1 team and go on to lose. Nebraska debuted No. 1 in 2000 and lost to Oklahoma, and the Sooners were No. 1 the first week of the BCS in 2001 and lost to Nebraska.
BCS No. 1 teams are 63-18 all time when playing with the No. 1 target on their back. But recently, that target has been much bigger. In the first nine seasons of the BCS era, top-ranked teams in the BCS standings were 48-9 on the field. But since 2007, the No. 1 team is 15-9.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Information
If there was ever a season for history to be made from a team outside the power conferences, this could be the year. Oregon and Auburn are on watch now with the target squarely on their backs. The No. 2 Ducks have looked unstoppable on offense this season, most recently in a 60-13 boat race of UCLA on Thursday night, but will face their biggest challenge to date with a trip to Los Angeles next weekend to play USC.
The Trojans have no Pac-10 championship and no bowl trip to play for, so you can bet this will be the equivalent of their bowl game. USC is two field goals from being undefeated. Its defense has been hard to figure out, but that offense has the talent to at least be in the game with the Ducks. Monte Kiffin has a week to prepare his defense for the most relentless offense in the nation.
No. 4 Auburn, a 24-17 winner over No. 6 LSU, has the Heisman Trophy leader in Cameron Newton and a defense that proved its worth behind big, burly Nick Fairley. The Tigers face Mississippi next week, but the big one is Nov. 26 against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a game that could affect both teams in their quest for a championship.
Michigan State is in the mix, too, after the Spartans used more trickeration to come back and beat Northwestern 35-27. The Spartans have a big game coming at Iowa next week against a Hawkeyes team reeling after a 31-30 loss to Wisconsin.
Seven undefeated teams remain, but let 2007 be a lesson. We have no idea how long it will stay that way.
On the prowl
COLUMBIA, Mo.-- Missouri's 36-27 win over Oklahoma on Saturday night was a huge one for the program, and the Tigers weren't shy about sharing its significance when the game's final whistle blew.
The first words out of coach Gary Pinkel's mouth in a sideline interview swarmed by fans made that clear.
"Well, it's huge," he told the ESPN cameras with a relieved shake of the head.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was talking only about this 2010 team, but he might as well have been addressing the program as a whole, which is still searching for its first conference title since 1969, when Dan Devine won his only Big 8 title.
"We're fighters. Not a lot of people gave us the respect -- that we would win this football game," Gabbert said. "So we had to come out here and take it."
In the process, the Tigers emerged as the last unbeaten team in the Big 12 and set up a monster showdown against Nebraska in Lincoln next Saturday that could decide the Big 12 North.
But a little less than 700 miles to the south, the Tigers set off another celebration -- this one in Waco, Texas.
The Sooners' loss was their first of the conference season. Texas lost earlier in the day to Iowa State, marking the first time the two had lost on the same day since 2007. Oklahoma State also fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a home loss to Nebraska.
That means that, four weeks into its conference season, Baylor -- a team that hasn't had a winning season in 15 years -- is alone atop the Big 12 South at 3-1 and in the driver's seat for a Big 12 South title in late October for the first time ever.
After Missouri's win over Oklahoma -- its first since 1998 and second since 1983 -- Pinkel won the Peace Pipe rivalry trophy for the first time.
Baylor can attest, the reverberations from that win didn't stop at the Missouri borders.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Like most college football fans, Ara Parseghian watched the Michigan State-Notre Dame game in Week 3 from the edge of his seat.
As the Spartans lined up for the potential tying field goal in overtime, Parseghian thought the Spartans probably were toast. It was a long kick, 46 yards, and a ton of pressure for a first-year starter (Dan Conroy). But would Michigan State go and ahead and kick? Of course it would.
Until the Spartans didn't.
Parseghian, the Hall of Fame coach, was as surprised as anyone when Michigan State ran a fake field goal labeled "Little Giants" and scored the winning touchdown.
"That was a gutsy call," said Parseghian, the former Notre Dame, Northwestern and Miami University coach who returned to Northwestern as an honorary captain. "I tell you, I've never seen a gutsier one than that."
The 87-year-old might have revised his statement after Week 8 of Big Ten action.
The league known for percentage plays and conventional coaching has been overtaken by unlikely gamblers. Terms like "Little Giants," "Mousetrap" and "Chain" have become part of the Big Ten vernacular, thanks to coaches who went all-in and hit the jackpot.
Parseghian had a front-row seat for Michigan State's latest wager: a fake punt pass into the wind with a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter on the road.
It's called "Mousetrap" because, as coach Mark Dantonio explained, "We had to get them to take the cheese."
Michigan State fooled Northwestern, and punter Aaron Bates found redshirt freshman receiver Bennie Fowler for a 23-yard completion. The Spartans scored on the next play and went on to win 35-27, preserving their perfect record while improving to 8-0.
Bates, who also made the unforgettable pass on "Little Giants," now boasts a passer rating of 475.
"I just felt like we had to take the shot," said Dantonio, who returned to the field Saturday for the first time since calling "Little Giants."
Michigan State had installed the play specifically for the Northwestern game, and although the situation to use it was far from ideal, players such as receiver Keith Nichol knew Dantonio would pull the trigger.
"It gives us that motivation to go out there, that extra yard, that extra inch, make that big play," Nichol said, "knowing that he's going to trust us to make another big play. It gives our whole team a lot more confidence when the coach does something like that."
Wisconsin knows the feeling after coach Bret Bielema took the biggest gamble of his coaching career. The Badgers trailed 30-24 at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium and faced fourth-and-4 from their own 26-yard line with about six minutes left in the game.
"Once we saw the personnel out on the field, it was game on," Bielema said.
Bielema called for "Chain," a play installed only days earlier, and designed to -- you guessed it -- move the chains. Punter Brad Nortman followed second-string guard Ryan Groy and raced up the gut for 17 yards.
Eleven plays later, Montee Ball scored the winning touchdown. Wisconsin notched back-to-back signature wins and kept its hopes for a BCS bowl very much alive.
"Great execution," Bielema said. "Great faith."
And a lot of guts.
Hope floats in the SEC
That creaking sound you heard late Saturday night was the door opening a little bit wider for the SEC in the BCS national championship race.
The SEC got exactly what it needed the past two weeks, first with Ohio State and Nebraska going down two Saturdays ago, then with Oklahoma tumbling at Missouri this Saturday.
Auburn, now the SEC's only unbeaten team after knocking off LSU 24-17, is in great shape. Auburn was No. 4 in the BCS standings last week and could move up into the top two spots when the new standings are announced Sunday night.
At this point, it looks pretty cut-and-dried for Gene Chizik's Tigers. If they win out, they're going to get a chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
With one loss, Alabama doesn't control its own destiny the way Auburn does, but the Crimson Tide are poised to make a move if they can win out, which includes that showdown with Auburn on Nov. 26.
Alabama was No. 8 last week in the BCS standings and will move up this week, too. The Crimson Tide still probably could use either Oregon or Michigan State losing, and, if that happens, they would be in excellent shape to make it back to the BCS title game as a one-loss SEC champion.
Alabama and Auburn need each other to keep winning. That way, the winner of their game the day after Thanksgiving is going to get a huge lift in the polls by beating another top-5 team that late in the season.
That's probably going to be more important for Alabama because the Crimson Tide already have a loss.
LSU isn't completely out of the national championship chase, but the Tigers' hopes are hanging by a thread. For one, they're going to need Auburn to lose twice now if they're going to make it into even the SEC championship game.
They also would need just about everybody in front of them to lose: Oregon, Boise State, TCU, Michigan State and Missouri.
Still, they get Alabama at home in two weeks and certainly could ruin the Crimson Tide's hopes of repeating as national champions once and for all.
This last month is the hardest for teams positioned near the top of the BCS standings. Go back and look at how many teams have lost on those final two weekends in the past few years.
Auburn, after two tough games at home against nationally ranked foes, has to go on the road this coming weekend at Ole Miss in one of those games that has "trap" written all over it.
"This doesn't change anything for us," Chizik said. "It doesn't change the way we prepare. It doesn't change the way we talk to our team. It doesn't change the way we practice. It doesn't change anything.
"This is a step-by-step, day-by-day process, and I know that sounds like a coaching cliché, but that's what it is. We're not going to talk about where we end up rankingwise. We are not going to talk about being 8-0. We are not going to talk about any of that. We are going to talk about Ole Miss starting [Sunday], and that's how we will proceed."
Three weekend observations
1. People complain about how college football is ruled by the same teams year after year. Yes, once again, Missouri and Baylor are leading the Big 12 North and South, respectively. And Baylor and Mississippi State are bowl-eligible while Texas and Florida are only 4-3. And Michigan State again leads the Big Ten. And South Carolina leads the SEC East. And Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton leads the Heisman Trophy race, just as everyone predicted in August. Why even bother to play the games?
2. After Syracuse's road upset of West Virginia, 19-14, Florida State is the only team in the ACC or the Big East with fewer than two losses. The Mountain West has two teams rated ninth or higher in the BCS, and that's before No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 6 LSU lost on Saturday. The Mountain West has sent a team to a BCS bowl in each of the past two seasons. If I'm the Mountain West, I'm thinking, "OK, explain to me again how I don't have an automatic bid and those guys do?"
3. Just warning you about what fans in Alabama -- which is to say, every citizen -- already are obsessing over: If No. 4 Auburn gets to 11-0 (toughest game remaining, Georgia) and No. 8 Alabama gets to 10-1 (toughest games, at LSU and Mississippi State), the Iron Bowl will be the biggest game in that 365-day rivalry since the Crimson Tide's first visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1989. Only once, in 1971, did the cross-state rivals play with unbeaten records: Alabama 31, Auburn and Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan, 7.
'GameDay' crew final thoughts
Blaine Gabbert is really showing the leadership he has developed. It was also a courageous return for Aldon Smith, who had a key interception to prevent an Oklahoma scoring drive. It's one thing for a team to give you chances to win the game, but Missouri absolutely took advantage of those chances, as it has all season, and the Tigers are now squarely in the national championship race, especially the way this crazy season has gone.
Each week is different, and it's a different team every week. However, I was very impressed with Wisconsin. To knock off the top-ranked team in the nation and then come back and win a game on the road against a top-15 team is hard to do. I was definitely impressed at the fact that the Badgers were able to play at that type of level for two straight weeks. The same goes with Auburn. An emotional win last week against Arkansas and to come back and beat a top-10 team this week is hard to do. Looking forward, I'm interested to see what Oregon and Michigan State do on the road next week. Big tests for both teams.
Cam Newton is a mountain man. He just can't be stopped by an opponent. The only person who can stop him is Gene Chizik, who gave him just one carry against Louisiana-Monroe a few weeks ago. He's the best QB I've seen. He has size, strength, speed and vision. He just has it all. Also, a big win for Michigan State, and we'll find out a lot about Sparty next week as MSU visits Iowa.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Washaun Ealey, Georgia
28 rushes, 157 yards, 5 TDs in 44-31 win vs. Kentucky
• FB Alexander Teich, Navy
241 total yards, TD in 35-17 win vs. Notre Dame
Blog Network: What we learned
After a couple of lackluster performances, Miami showed it has a pulse in the ACC title race with a win over North Carolina.
Missouri distinguished itself as the best team in the Big 12, and the South has turned into a bizarro world.
After limping into Big East play with no big wins, Pitt has emerged as the team to beat in the league with a 2-0 record.
Michigan State is firmly in the driver's seat in the Big Ten race, and Wisconsin has made the jump from good to great.
And then there was one
. Auburn emerged as the SEC's lone unbeaten team and is on a collision course with Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
After another loss from a No. 1 team, the non-AQs are still very much in contention for a BCS national championship.
Last season, Navy was the beginning of the end for Notre Dame. How will the Irish respond to Saturday's loss?
Highlights: Nebraska-Oklahoma State
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.
• Big Ten: Brad Nortman & Aaron Bates; Martez Wilson; Penn State RBs
More Big Ten stickers
Highlights: Michigan State-Northwestern
Odds & ends
• From 1964 to 2006, Navy beat Notre Dame exactly zero times, losing all 43 matchups. Thirty-six of the losses were by double digits. Since ending the 43-year losing streak in 2007, the Midshipmen have won three of four against the Irish, winning in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1960-61. Saturday's 18-point win was the largest for Navy in the series with Notre Dame in 47 years, since a 21-point win in 1963.
• Texas lost to UCLA at home, then beat Nebraska on the road. Now it lost to Iowa State at home. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially when you consider it's the first time since 1997 that the Longhorns have lost consecutive home games. Back in 1997, a three-game home losing streak began with a loss to UCLA, just as the current two-game losing streak has. However, the bigger picture for Texas is that the 4-3 start puts the school's streak of 10-win seasons in jeopardy. The Longhorns have won at least 10 games in nine straight seasons, the longest active streak in the nation and the second-longest of all time (FSU, 14 straight). With five regular-season games left, Texas will need to win a Big 12 title game or a bowl game to keep the streak alive.