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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive The Week That Was: Bye-Week Bonanza
Written by Jesse Lamovsky

Jesse Lamovsky

Ohio State may have been on a bye last weekend- but there was no shortage of fireworks to relieve the boredom of Buckeye fans deprived of watching their favorite team. The number-one team in the land went down last Saturday, opening the door to the type of BCS Championship Game we haven’t seen in a long time. Teams around the country alternately moved one step closer to bowl bids and conference championships, while others moved a step back. We’ll look at the stunner in Tuscaloosa, the SEC’s chokehold on the BCS Championship and the chances of that chokehold relaxing this season, the season’s overachieving programs (Kent State will be mentioned, of course) and the state of the division and conference races in a Buckeye-free TWTW.

Game of the Week- Texas A&M/Alabama: In retrospect, the perfect storm for an upset was brewing over Tuscaloosa all last week. Alabama was coming off an emotional win at LSU in what was widely seen as the last legitimate challenge to their undefeated season. Texas A&M was a red-hot team fresh off two lopsided SEC road wins, a team peaking behind the heroics of “Johnny Football” himself, freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. This had “trap game” written all over it.

And that’s how it played out right from the start, when the Aggies hit the Tide with a three-touchdown first-quarter blast. “Johnny Football” was unstoppable, slicing up Alabama’s heralded defense by land and by air. The Tide climbed to within six at halftime and to within three in the third quarter. But they could never quite get over the hump in a game they never led.

In the end the team that kept its composure in Baton Rouge lost is composure at home. Trailing 29-24, the Crimson Tide had first-and-goal at the six with four minutes left and blew it with a weak, tentative sequence of plays climaxed by A.J. McCarron’s fourth-down interception in the end zone. After the ‘Bama defense stopped A&M and forced a punt, Tyler Hayes jumped offside to give the Aggies the first down and the game.

So Alabama made mistakes. But the Aggies deserve credit for getting the Tide out of their game, for running up 431 total yards on the nation’s best defense and for forcing three turnovers, including McCarron’s first two interceptions of the season. Manziel deserves credit for his 253 yards and two touchdowns passing and 92 yards rushing on the road against the number-one team in the land. A&M has played good football all season, even in defeat, and has played great football recently. We should’ve seen this coming.

God’s Conference and the BCS: Hard to believe I know, but at one time the terms “BCS Championship” and “SEC” weren’t synonymous. From 1998 (the first year of the BCS) through 2005 only two members of God’s Conference even played in the game- Tennessee in ’98 and LSU in ’03. Florida’s rout of Ohio State in the ’07 Championship Game changed everything, though. Since then the SEC has gained a virtual monopoly on the game culminating in last year’s inter-conference matchup between Alabama and LSU.

Texas A&M’s upset of Alabama might have ended that monopoly, at least for this season. The loss drops the Crimson Tide to fourth in the latest BCS poll, behind Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. If two of those three teams win out you can kiss the SEC’s six-game streak of BCS Championships goodbye, simply because there won’t be an SEC team in the title game.

Even to a fellow who generally lets others extol the wonderfulness of God’s Conference, it seems a little… incomplete not to have one of its members competing for the BCS Championship. At this point, after six years of utter domination, it almost seems that the only “authentic” title is a title won either by an SEC team, or over an SEC team.

But you have to earn your way there. And to this point, no one in the SEC has. Alabama got outplayed and outcoached in its own stadium by a two-loss team that wasn’t even in the SEC last year. Georgia’s loss was a four-touchdown thrashing. Florida is a mess offensively and barely escaped a team that will probably finish fourth in the Sun Belt. And those teams will play Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State respectively this weekend. I’m thinking those games won’t help too much in the ole’ computer polls.

And we can talk all we want about how tough it is to navigate God’s Conference, but the legendary meat-grinder has shown some dull edges in 2012. Several members- Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky- are going through their worst seasons in years and even decades. Four SEC teams are ranked 100th or worse in total offense, and Texas A&M’s Big 12-style offense hasn’t exactly been shut down by those vaunted SEC defenses either.

So while a BCS Championship without an SEC participant might seem unfamiliar, it won’t be unfair or unjust. God’s Conference’s monopoly on the BCS hasn’t always existed and isn’t permanent. Should the three unbeaten teams stay unbeaten through the regular season, they’ll all have a better resume than the SEC Champion- simple as that. It’s a little early to be talking about this anyway. Alabama and Georgia are 4-5 in the BCS standings and there is a lot of football left to be played.              

Opportunities Lost: Alabama wasn’t the only team that saw some dreams die last weekend. Several teams had opportunities to either extend undefeated seasons or solidify conference/division-title aspirations- and flubbed them:

-          Indiana could have taken a massive step toward bowl eligibility and a Big Ten Leaders title by knocking off Wisconsin in Bloomington. Instead the Badgers buried the Hoosiers, rolling up a program-record 564 rushing yards in a 62-14 rout that clinched the title-game berth for Wisconsin. Indiana has now lost eight straight to the Badgers, the last three by a combined score of 204-41. And with a 4-6 record overall, the Hoosiers’ bowl chances are on life support.

-          Miami could have put a hammerlock on the ACC Coastal Division with a win over Virginia in Charlottesville. But with a ten-point lead early in the fourth quarter the ragged Hurricane defense collapsed. Two long scoring drives in the final eleven minutes- the second ending in a touchdown with six seconds left- gave the Cavaliers a 41-40 victory and put the Coastal right back up for grabs.

-          Louisville entered the weekend with a perfect 9-0 record. But the Cardinals were ambushed in the Carrier Dome, yielding 524 total yards in a surprisingly decisive 45-26 Syracuse win. Not only did the defeat knock the Cardinals from the ranks of the unbeaten, it also knocked them out of first place in the Big East.         

-          Oregon State could have taken a giant step toward at least an at-large BCS bid with a win at Stanford. But the Beavers couldn’t hold onto a 23-14 second-half lead and fell to the Cardinal, 27-23.

-          Ohio had an opportunity to knock Bowling Green out of the MAC East race and stay within a game of first-place Kent State with a win over the Falcons Thursday night in Athens. But the Bobcats were shut down by BGSU’s stingy defense, gaining just 244 total yards in a 26-14 loss that all but eliminated them from the division race.

-          Louisiana-Lafayette was close to becoming the latest and greatest of Sun Belt giant-killers, leading sixth-ranked Florida 20-13 late in the fourth period at the Swamp. But the Ragin’ Cajuns gave up two touchdowns in the final two minutes- the second on a blocked punt with two seconds to play- to turn a program-defining upset into a bitterly disappointing defeat.

Overachievers:  We know all about the programs that have underachieved this season, and there are a bunch of them- USC, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Arkansas and others. But a number of formerly mediocre-to-bad programs have bounced back in 2012 with sterling seasons. Here is a look at five of the biggest overachievers of this college football season:

Kent State: The ultimate overachiever resides in Kent, Ohio. The Flashes, a program with two winning seasons in the last quarter-century prior to this year, are 9-1 and ranked 25th in the latest AP poll following their 48-32 romp over O.G. Miami in Oxford. Kent owns the second-best turnover margin in the country at +20 (behind only Kansas State’s +21) and boasts a pair of 1,000-yard backs in Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.  

UCLA: After languishing in mediocrity for years, the Bruins have roared back to relevance under first-year head coach Jim Mora Jr. At 8-2 they’ve already clinched their best record since 2005, and they’ve done it with a high-powered offense led by freshman quarterback Brett Hundley and speedy senior tailback Jonathan Franklin. Although Mora made his bones in the NFL as a defensive mind, his UCLA team is a robust 13th in the nation in total offense. Just winning isn’t enough in Los Angeles; you have to be entertaining too, and the Bruins (and their high-strung coach) are definitely that.  

San Jose State: Going into 2012 the Spartans had gone 19-42 in their previous five seasons, including 2-10 and 1-12 marks in 2009 and ’10. But they’re 8-2 this year behind a stout defense and the passing tandem of quarterback David Fales and receiver Noel Grigsby. Included in the record are impressive road wins over San Diego State and Navy and a gritty last-minute loss to powerful Stanford. With two games to go San Jose has virtually clinched only its second bowl bid in this century.   

Fresno State: This California-centric list continues with Fresno, a longtime football power that faded into mediocrity in the last few years under Pat Hill. The Bulldogs- who went 4-9 in 2011- have found an elixir in first-year head coach Tim Deruyter. The longtime defensive assistant has worked wonders on that side of the ball; after finishing 100th in total defense last season the Bulldogs are a solid 25th in 2012. The result is an 8-2 record and serious contention in the Mountain West title race. A dynamic offense led by quarterback Derek Carr, tailback Robbie Rouse and receiver Davante Adams hasn’t hurt either.

Vanderbilt: After struggling to a 2-4 start the Commodores have won four straight, including Saturday’s dramatic 27-26 win at Ole Miss. At 6-4 (4-3 in the SEC) with games remaining against Tennessee and Wake Forest, Vandy has an excellent shot at winning eight games and finishing with a winning conference record for the first time since 1982. I don’t know what it will take to keep James Franklin in Nashville long-term, but Vanderbilt had better figure it out soon.  

State of the Races

With just a few weeks remaining in the season it’s a good time to take stock of the championship races in the eleven FBS conferences. We’ll start with the automatic BCS qualifiers and work our way down from there:


Atlantic: FSU’s last-minute comeback at Virginia Tech last Thursday moved the Seminoles (6-1) to within one game of the Atlantic crown. They can punch their ticket with a win at Maryland this Saturday. Clemson is also 6-1, but their one loss is to Florida State. Still, if the Tigers finish their season with wins over N.C. State and South Carolina they’ll be in the driver’s seat for a BCS at-large berth.

Coastal: With Virginia Tech down and North Carolina on probation, the Coastal is the proverbial hot mess. Miami and Georgia Tech are tied for the division lead at 4-3; the Hurricanes hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Yellow Jackets and can clinch with a win at Duke in two weeks. It’s almost hard to believe, but Miami has yet to win an ACC division title since joining the league in 2005. Duke still has a chance; the Blue Devils are 3-3 and finish with games against Georgia Tech and Miami.

Big Ten

Leaders: Thanks to the sanctions imposed on Ohio State and Penn State, this race is already over. Wisconsin clinched the bid to the Big Ten Championship Game last Saturday with its 62-14 thrashing of Indiana.

Legends: Nebraska and Michigan each own 5-1 league records but the Cornhuskers own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Either two wins or a win and a Wolverine loss will send Bo Pelini’s team to Indianapolis and a rematch with Wisconsin. Pity Northwestern; the Wildcats are 3-3 in the Big Ten but led late in all three of those losses, including Saturday’s improbable heartbreaker in Ann Arbor. 


East: Georgia’s 38-0 rout of Auburn Saturday clinched the division for the Dawgs, who finish their season with non-conference tilts against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.

West: Despite the loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, Alabama is still in command in the West and need only beat hapless Auburn at home in two weeks to secure its eighth division title.

Pac 12

North: The division will be decided by the showdown between Oregon (7-0) and Stanford (6-1) Saturday in Eugene. The Ducks will clinch with a win; the Cardinal will clinch with a win and a win at UCLA in the season finale (no easy task.)

South: USC’s unexpected slide and UCLA’s unexpected rise have made this one of the more intriguing division races in college football. Like the North the South will be decided this Saturday when Bruins (5-2) and Trojans (5-3) meet in Pasadena.

Big East: Four teams are still in the conference-title race, with Rutgers (4-0) in front and Louisville (4-1), Cincinnati (3-1) and Syracuse (4-2) in arrears. The Knights still have to play both Cincinnati and Louisville in addition to Pitt; Louisville (which has already beaten Cincinnati) hosts Connecticut before finishing at Rutgers; Cincinnati ends with Rutgers, South Florida and Connecticut.

Big 12: Kansas State (7-0) controls its destiny. The Wildcats can clinch the conference title with wins in either of their final two games at Baylor and at home against Texas. Oklahoma (5-1) needs wins over West Virginia, TCU and Oklahoma as well as two K-State losses to steal the title; Texas (5-2) needs wins over TCU and Kansas State, two losses by the Wildcats and two losses by the Sooners.

Conference USA

East: With the appeal of their 2012 probation scheduled for next year Central Florida is postseason-eligible, and the Knights (6-0) currently lead the East by one game over East Carolina (5-1). Having defeated the Pirates back in early October, the Knights only need a split in their final two games at Tulsa and against UAB to win their fourth C-USA East title.

West: Tulsa (6-0) owns a commanding two-game lead over SMU (4-2) with two games remaining. The Golden Hurricane aren’t out of the woods quite yet; they host East frontrunner Central Florida next Saturday and finish at SMU in two weeks. If they lose both of those games, and if SMU beats Rice in addition to Tulsa, the Mustangs will represent the West in the C-USA Championship Game. 


East: After cruising along as the at-large favorite for eight weeks the Ohio Bobcats have lost two of three to fall behind in the race. Kent State (6-0) and Bowling Green (5-1) will meet next Saturday in Doyt Perry Stadium in the game that will likely decide the title. The Flashes can clinch with a win; the Falcons can clinch with a win and a win over Buffalo in the regular-season finale.

West: As it so often does the West comes down to Northern Illinois (6-0) and Toledo (5-1). The Huskies (whose only loss was by one point at Iowa on opening day) can clinch their third straight division title with a win over the Rockets this Wednesday in DeKalb. Toledo can punch its ticket for Detroit by defeating NIU and Akron in the finale.

Mountain West: The MWC is a three-cornered dogfight between San Diego State (6-1), Fresno State (6-1) and Boise State (5-1). All three teams have already played and are 1-1 against the other two, so any head-to-head tiebreakers are out the window in case the race ends in a three-way tie- which is entirely possible. The Mountain’s procedures in the case of a three-way tie are not clearly defined; in this case the Las Vegas Bowl- the automatic bid for the league champion- can choose among any of the three.  

WAC: Currently the lead is shared by Louisiana Tech and Utah State (both of whom are 4-0) with San Jose State a half-game behind at 4-1. The Bulldogs and Aggies will meet in Reston, Louisiana next Saturday to battle for the inside track to the title. SJSU is down but not yet out; if Louisiana Tech defeats Utah State the Spartans can force a three-way tie for the championship with a win over the Bulldogs in two weeks.

Sun Belt: Arkansas State (5-1) owns the lead with Middle Tennessee (4-1) a half-game behind, Louisiana-Monroe (4-2) a game behind and Louisiana-Lafayette (3-2) a game-and-a-half behind. The Artists Formerly Known as the Indians have already beaten both Louisiana schools and finish with games at Troy and at home against Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders (whose only league defeat is to UL-Monroe) play South Alabama, Troy and Arkansas State to close out the season.  

Next: Ohio State’s season resumes Saturday at 3:30 at Camp Randall Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers.  

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