Another tough blow for Lattimore, Gamecocks
South Carolina was forced to finish last season without Marcus Lattimore.
Sadly for the Gamecocks' star tailback, that will again be the case this season.
In one of the more bittersweet victories you'll ever see, South Carolina held on to defeat Tennessee 38-35 on Saturday in a game in which Lattimore went down in the first half with a gruesome-looking injury to his right knee.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after the game that the injury was "pretty severe," and school officials said only that it was a right knee injury and that Lattimore was out indefinitely.
"Maybe it won't be quite as severe as it appeared on the field out there," Spurrier said.
The deeper concern after watching the replay of the injury is whether Lattimore will be able to play football ever again. The cruel irony of it all is that he had just talked to his teammates on Friday night and reminded them how important it was to play every play like it was their last.
South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders was the first player to get to Lattimore's side after he went down and immediately starting clutching his knee.
"I could see the look in his eyes when he was on the ground," Sanders said. "He was really heartbroken. We were just trying to keep him strong."
Players from both the South Carolina and Tennessee sidelines poured out onto the field to surround Lattimore before he was carted from the field.
"When he went down, you could feel it through the whole stadium," Sanders said. "It just died down. We had to finish that game out for him."
The next (and toughest) challenge for the Gamecocks will be finishing out the season without Lattimore. His productivity on the field was one thing, but he's so much more to that team than just a rugged runner. He's a steadying presence and one of those players who just makes everybody else around him better when he's on the field.
After Lattimore tore the ACL in his left knee last season against Mississippi State, South Carolina managed to go 5-1 the rest of the way and won 11 games for the first time in school history.
Brandon Wilds, a true freshman, filled in admirably for Lattimore down the stretch at running back in 2011. That duty will fall on senior Kenny Miles and freshman Mike Davis this season, as Wilds has battled an ankle injury and hasn't played this season.
South Carolina has a bye next week, which should give the Gamecocks some time to get through the sobering reality that their leader probably won't be with them for the stretch run.
"That was one of the most unfortunate things to happen since I've been here, but we have to move on from here," Spurrier said. "Good things are going to happen for Marcus. I don't know exactly where or how, but good things are going to happen for him."
How high can Wildcats climb?
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey summed up USC in the second half of the Wildcats' 39-36 upset win like this: "They were getting tired and making weird mistakes."
That's true. the Trojans had five turnovers and a bunch of stupid penalties, as well as plenty of missed plays, in the defeat that knocked them out of the national title picture.
But as much as the Trojans' loss was due to their futility, it's hard to ignore the fact that Arizona took over the game in the second half.
It looked like USC was about to take control in the third quarter with a 28-13 lead. But the opposite happened. The Wildcats scored 26 unanswered points and took over the game.
That suggests first-year coach Rich Rodriguez has built a mentally tough team.
Arizona QB Matt Scott didn't come out for postgame interviews, but his teammates spoke for him. He passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards and a score. It was a gritty performance, one that eclipsed his old high school nemesis, Matt Barkley.
"[Scott's] a warrior," said receiver Austin Hill, who caught 10 passes for 259 yards. "He always gets the yards we need."
Arizona won despite being dominated by USC receiver Marqise Lee, who set a Pac-12 record with 16 receptions for 345 yards.
"That's probably the best performance I've seen in my life," Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer said.
Fischer and the Wildcats' defense gave up a ton of yards -- 618 in the four-hour game, to be precise. But the defense mostly quieted the Trojans in the second half, when Scott, Carey and Hill took over.
Here's the deal, though. This can merely become a wonderful flash for a middling season. Or Arizona can go to UCLA and win, giving them a shot at the Pac-12 South Division title.
If the Wildcats win the rest of their games -- at UCLA, Colorado, at Utah, Arizona State -- they will win the South Division (even with three conference losses) if USC loses again, which seems likely with Oregon on the slate.
So that means the Wildcats could be a game away from their first Rose Bowl.
Arizona already has exceeded expectations in Year 1 under Rodriguez. The question now is how high can this team climb?
Time to readjust expectations for Big East
Two weeks ago, the Big East was riding high with three ranked, unbeaten teams. Better than the Big Ten and ACC? You bet, according to ESPN Stats & Information's conference power rankings.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Big East image restoration.
Cincinnati lost to Toledo last week. Down went one Big East team.
This week, Rutgers played another team from the MAC, Kent State. If the Cincinnati game served as a warning, the Scarlet Knights were not paying attention.
And down went Rutgers in spectacular fashion on Saturday -- on homecoming no less. The No. 15 Scarlet Knights -- the highest-ranked team in the Big East -- lost 35-23 thanks to seven turnovers and their worst defensive performance of the season. Rutgers, a team that prides itself on taking care of the football, went into the game tied for third nationally in turnover margin and had the No. 3 rushing defense in the country.
But the Flashes had the edge in turnover margin and the battle up front, gashing Rutgers for 224 yards on the ground. Rutgers also allowed its first 100-yard rusher in 11 games.
So Louisville, the Big East turns its lonely eyes to you.
The No. 16 Cardinals are the last hope the Big East has to not only run the table, but finish in the top 10 in the final BCS standings. It is pretty obvious at this point that the Big East has virtually no shot of getting an undefeated team into the BCS national championship game. But having a team go undefeated will at least help the conference as it moves forward with a radically different lineup in 2013.
Louisville will remain a league member, so the Big East is rooting for the Cardinals. They may be developing a reputation as the "Cardiac Cards" because virtually all of their wins have come down to the wire. But they are the flag bearer for the Big East now. Close wins or blowout victories? It does not matter.
The truth is having three undefeated teams so late into the season raised expectations. It is time to readjust those. Having Louisville run the table would be a huge victory for the Big East. Now we wait and see if the Cardinals can get there. Because as we have seen the past two weeks, nobody is guaranteed a thing in this league.
Mannion deserves benefit of the doubt -- for now
SEATTLE -- Mike Riley needs a quarterback controversy like I need higher cholesterol.
Following its first loss of the season Saturday night to Washington at CenturyLink Field, Oregon State (6-1) is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 North crown and potentially a BCS bowl game.
This is not the time to start turning locker rooms upside down. Riley did that last season, when he replaced Ryan Katz with Sean Mannion. It was a tough learning experience for all parties involved, and the end result was a 3-9 season.
But from those struggles, the 2012 Oregon State team was forged. And it's still a very, very good football team.
Mannion, who was making his first start since missing the previous two games after minor knee surgery, threw four interceptions against the Huskies and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Cody Vaz -- who had guided the Beavers to a pair of wins in Mannion's stead.
Mannion had worked the entire week with the first-team offense. So physically, he was ready to go and any rust should have been minimal. It could be entirely possible that Mannion just had a bad game. Believe it or not, they happen.
The Clink has humbled every quarterback who has played here this season. In Washington's four home games, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 50 percent of their passes for an average of 164.75 yards with three combined touchdowns and seven interceptions. Katz (now with San Diego State) was 10-of-19 for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception; USC's Matt Barkley was 10-of-20 for 167 yards with a touchdown and a pick; Stanford's Josh Nunes was 18-of-37 for 170 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Mannion was 18-of-34 for 194 yards with a score and the four picks.
This stadium feasts on quarterback ratings. Saturday night, Mannion just happened to be a buffet.
So no, Riley shouldn't open up the competition between Mannion and Vaz. Well, not yet, anyway. Mannion has put too much into the program he took too many lumps last season and brought the Beavers to great heights -- to start talking about quarterback competitions. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. For now.
Irish eye BCS title
NORMAN, Okla. -- Notre Dame has an offense. Consequently, Notre Dame has a title shot.
The Irish defense was something the country had taken obvious note of in their 7-0 start, and that was no different here Saturday night in their 30-13 victory at Oklahoma. But an offense? For the Irish, now 8-0 as November approaches, that was new.
A unit finding its way with a freshman quarterback went on the road against a top-10 team -- with a defense allowing 4.5 yards a play -- and rolled up 403 yards of offense (6.1 per play) and scored 30 points.
"Our offense elevated itself against a great opponent, on the road," coach Brian Kelly said afterward, adding that there was a palpable confidence emanating from the team -- and especially the offense. "They knew they were going to play well."
The aforementioned freshman quarterback, Everett Golson, didn't even play last week against BYU as the result of a concussion the previous week. He said he used that time to clear his head, literally and figuratively. And he emerged a different player.
Kelly told us Friday that Golson would have to make plays if the team was going to win at a louder-than-normal Owen Field. That raised my eyebrow. We become accustomed to teams with great defenses needing only "game managers," players whose job description is simply: Don't screw it up.
But Kelly had more in mind for Golson. He pushed that burden on him, believing he was capable even in his infancy. That was never more the case than the possession following an Oklahoma touchdown that tied the game with nine minutes to go.
Kelly gave Golson consecutive passing plays, the second a 50-yard strike to Chris Brown down the middle of the field in what might turn out to be a season-defining play for the QB and the Irish.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. Pull out your computer models and try to figure out the Pac-12 South. It looks as if the team that can finish 6-3 in the conference will win. Meanwhile, barring upsets, the North will have three teams (No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Oregon State and No. 17 Stanford) that will finish 6-3 or better in Pac-12 play. It's not a surprise that the power in the league still leans toward Canada. But USC's failure to separate itself from the rest of the division exacerbates the difference between the South and the North.
2. In the first three quarters Friday night, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater struggled. His passing efficiency: 103.42. But in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater completed 8 of 10 passes for 201 yards, including 30- and 64-yard touchdowns to DeVante Parker. His passing efficiency in the final quarter: 314.84. The best players rise to the challenge placed before them. What's more amazing: Bridgewater, with that cool, is only a sophomore.
3. Tragedy is an overused word. But given the remarkable comeback that South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore made after his left knee blew out last season, the injury to his right knee Saturday just doesn't seem fair. One of the enduring images of the 2012 season will be Lattimore on the ground, with not only his teammates but players from Tennessee huddled around him, giving him encouragement. In a difficult season for Volunteers football, that will be remembered as one of the classier displays of this -- or any -- season.
GameDay crew final thoughts
This underscored just how hard it is to go undefeated in college football. We had 11 undefeated teams going into the day, and we're already down to six, and we haven't even reached Nov. 1 yet.
Kansas State continues to amaze me with its consistency. We've expected that from Alabama, but Kansas State and Oregon have also been extraordinarily consistent.
I thought it was a day when a lot of teams answered the bell; certainly Georgia did. The Dawgs' toughness had been questioned down there and now they're in control of the SEC East. And if we get to one-loss teams, I don't know if they control their fate given how they lost to South Carolina, but certainly they're on the periphery of the discussion for the national championship.
And if there are any doubters left about Notre Dame, they should start believing. Oklahoma may not be a great football team, but it's a very, very good one. The way Notre Dame won that game physically was most impressive, and I think that right now, the Irish's schedule looks wide open for them to finish undefeated and potentially play for the national championship.
And I think one of the more compelling things to watch over the past few weeks of the season, assuming that teams stay unbeaten, will be how Notre Dame stacks up against Kansas State and Oregon, both in the polls with the number of votes they get, and how the computers react. Will there be one spot or two spots in the championship game for those teams? It's still very possible the SEC could cannibalize itself and leave two spots.
Helmet stickers go to:
" RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
135 rushing yards, two TDs, 95 receiving yards, game-winning punt return TD versus NC State
" QB Wes Lunt - Oklahoma State
324 passing yards, one TD in win versus TCU
It's all starting to shake out. I think Notre Dame has proved that it is right up there with Alabama. The Irish, Oregon and K-State all have an excellent chance at going undefeated. Of all four, Alabama -- once the Tide get past LSU -- and Notre Dame have the easiest routes.
Oregon is going to have to play a conference championship game, and K-State plays in such a tough conference. But I just don't see anybody beating those four teams right now. They're for real.
I have to give it to Notre Dame with the way it beat Oklahoma in Norman. The Irish made the Sooners one-dimensional, stuffing the run and making them throw the football. They made them look like an average football team, which I didn't think they could do.
Alabama was impressive as usual. The Tide are a much better team than Mississippi State, which really hadn't played anybody. Hopefully AJ McCarron's shoulder is OK and he'll be ready to go against LSU next week, because that's going to be a huge game.
The Oregon Ducks, what can you say? They're a machine. They call off the dogs in the second half and still put up 70 points. Their backups are playing so much that if someone does get injured, they've got someone with experience who can go in and play, so down the road, they're going to be very, very tough to beat.
Georgia played their best game possible, particularly on the defensive side of the ball in giving up just nine points to Florida. But what's key is you've got a bunch of potential first-round NFL draft picks, and they finally put it together as a unit and played like that.
In the preseason, I had USC ranked fifth or sixth because I really thought that the Trojans were thin, and they weren't impressive on defense. And it showed earlier against Stanford, and now it's showed again against Arizona. They're probably going to end up with four or five losses at the end of the season.
Highlights: Michigan State-Wisconsin
Blog Network: What we learned
The gap between the Atlantic Division and Coastal Division this year is as wide as the FSU-Duke score indicated.
Texas' season is hanging by a thread. The Longhorns narrowly avoided disaster, but there are still quality teams left on Texas' schedule.
Stop scheduling the MAC. The Big East lost four games to the MAC this season -- two of them cost teams undefeated seasons (Cincinnati, Rutgers).
On a big stage in a hostile environment, Braxton Miller and the 9-0 Buckeyes made it clear that they're the best team in a flawed Big Ten.
Arizona is the nation's best 5-3 team. You don't want to play Arizona. This team has a potent offense and plenty of fight. That counts for a lot.
The gap between Alabama and the rest of the country is widening. The Tide are the most disciplined team out there, and they're getting better.
The Irish are always relevant. But this year they are back as a national title contender, with a clear path to 11-0 before facing USC.
Highlights: Washington-Oregon State
Weekly Leaders: Week 9
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: Giovani Bernard; Clemson's offense; Boston College
More ACC stickers
" Big 12: Case McCoy; Collin Klein; Quinn Sharp
More Big 12 stickers
" Big East: DeVante Parker; Ryan Nassib; Pitt's skill players
More Big East stickers
" Big Ten: Kain Colter; Braxton Miller; Nebraska's defense
More Big Ten stickers
" Pac-12: Marqise Lee; Matt Scott; Johnathan Franklin
More Pac-12 stickers
" SEC: Jarvis Jones; Marcus Lattimore; Johnny Manziel
More SEC stickers
" Notre Dame: Everett Golson; Theo Riddick/Cierre Wood
More ND stickers