QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

Once again, college football fans have no reason to be unhappy with the way things went on a busy Saturday on the gridiron.  For those of you who might have missed some of what happened, here’s some brief recaps on some of the Top 25 action, as well as some games of note from outside the rankings:

No need to really talk about #1 Florida or #2 Texas as they ripped right on through their cupcake opponents in Troy and Wyoming, respectively, so let’s go right into the game of the week, where #3 USC escaped Ohio Stadium and the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 18-15.  This was a game that most people

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USCs game-winning drive in Columbus

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USC's game-winning drive in Columbus

expected USC to run away with based off of Ohio State’s performance last week at home against Navy, but give credit to the Buckeye’s defense, which did a great job of containing star RB Joe McKnight until the final drive of the game for the Trojans, where McKnight made several key runs to lift USC to the win.  The QB matchup was certainly the big draw to this game, but both Matt Barkley (who’s a freshman in case you hadn’t heard that enough yet) and Terrelle Pryor failed to deliver fireworks as neither threw a TD pass and they both had 1 INT a piece in a game that was far more defensive than anticipated.  That being said, the Trojans maintain their dominance over Big 11 foes.

Again we skip #4 Alabama’s waxing of FIU and get right into our upset of the week as the Houston Cougars stung the soon-to-be former #5 Oklahoma

This might have been Houstons biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

This might have been Houston's biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

State Cowboys 45-35.  After building a surprising 24-7 halftime lead in Stillwater, Houston was outscored 21-0 in the 3rd quarter and the dream seemed dead for a team most remembered for producing Andre Ware in 1991 from their “Fun ‘n Gun” offense.  However, the Cougs came rallying back on their old Southwest Conference opponent, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter in a furious rally to pull the upset.  The state of Oklahoma might just have to wait until next year for the National Champs to come from their backyards.

Continuing on down the list, no major surprises or scares for Penn State, BYU, Cal, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Va. Tech, or TCU, as they all had relatively easy days handling their FBS or FCS opposition.  This allows us to

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

 look right at what was almost the game of the week, as Michigan, in spite of all the turmoil within its program, manages to pull out a last second victory over the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The story of this game is Tate Forcier, who seems to be the man Rich Rodriguez has been searching for to run his spread offense, as Forcier threw for 240 and two TDs and also ran the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a score.  For Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen was very good, throwing for 336 yards and 3 TDs, but in the end it was not enough.  Expect a flip-flop between these two teams being in and out of the Top 25 on Monday.

The game that might have raised the most eyebrows this week had to have been UNC’s 12-10 escape of lowly UConn.  It wasn’t even that UConn stepped up, it was just that UNC looked that bad.  The #19 Tar Heels never found any offensive rhythm and needed 12 fourth quarter points, the final 2 coming on a safety on a penalty in the end zone, to get out of Hartford with a W.  It calls into question the overall quality of the ACC as a whole.  Several teams have looked very soft in the early going, and it might point to a tough year in the bowls for the conference.

The last game in the Top 25 of note this week was #21 Georgia holding off a huge late rally by South Carolina to defend their turf, 41-37.  Holding a 38-26 lead in the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs allowed the Gamecocks to score 11 straight points and creep back to within one at 38-37.  However, Georgia’s block of what would have been the game-tying PAT was just enough to secure the victory Between the Hedges.

Outside of the Top 25, there were three games that really caught my attention.  First was Tennessee’s 19-15 loss to UCLA at home.  Didn’t Lane Kiffin say something about beating Florida this year?  I know it’s just one game but UCLA is not the class of the Pac-10.  I wonder if Kiffin is wanting to take some of the things he said back yet.

Last, but certainly not least, my Cupcakes of the Week Award goes to both the University of Maryland, who narrowly escaped their home opener with a thrilling 38-35 victory over James Madison, and also to the Ball State Cardinals, who went from possible BCS busters last season to losing 23-16 at home to New Hampshire.  Listen, I understand that rebuilding years will happen and that sometimes the team just doesn’t show up for games against lesser opponents, but if you’re bigger budget, higher profile school is getting beaten by teams filled with your recruiting leftovers, then something is very wrong with what you as a college football program are doing.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the Terps play in the very mediocre ACC this year.

So there it is, another long Saturday in the books for football fans, but not to worry, for the NFL season is upon us!  Check back tomorrow night/Monday morning for a recap from Sunday’s games and a preview of the Monday Night games.

Game of the Week: Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: CBS, 3:30 ET

Last Week: Georgia beat LSU, Florida defeated Kentucky

     There are two big games this week. The headliner is another battle of unbeatens in the Texas-Texas Tech game. The other game used to be officially referred to as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and features two one-loss divisional rivals in Florida and Georgia. I decided to write about the other game.

     Why, you might ask, in a million years, would you choose to not write about what appears to be the last regular season game between two undefeated teams this year? Although the Texas-Texas Tech game is monumental in shaping the Big 12 and national championship picture, I have my reasons for choosing to write about the Cocktail Party, as always, I will share them with my loyal reader(s) in order to justify my decision.

     I have three reasons for choosing this match-up. First of all and most importantly, this game has conference and national championship implications as well. The winner of this game pretty much locks up the SEC East title, and if the winner wins out, including the SEC championship game, that team will have a legitimate shot to play in the national championship game (depending on the results of the rest of the nation, of course). It is necessary to mention, however, that running the table will still be difficult, with non-conference rivalries (Georgia vs. a new look Georgia Tech and Florida vs. a re-energized Florida State) and the SEC title game, looming large.

     Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

     Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

     Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Special teams wise, both teams offset each other for the most part. Florida has an excellent punt return game but Georgia leads the SEC in punting. Both Florida and Georgia have good kick return games, but both also have mediocre kickoff coverage units. However, it is important to note that Florida features one of the SEC leaders in the return game with the electrifying speedster Brandon James, and he could be a formidable foe for the Georgia special teams units.

As far as intangibles go, I think Florida has an advantage. The Gators obviously want revenge from last year and are extremely motivated to beat the Bulldogs. Georgia also is the most penalized team in the SEC (Florida ranks 2nd). However, intangibles are just intangibles and what really matters is the plays the players make.

Prediction: This, as usual, is an extremely tough game to call. I think Georgia has had too many issues and injuries this year, and Tebow is a lot healthier than he was at this point last year. I say Florida 41-38. If you were betting, though, you should probably bet against me because I have been wrong for the past several weeks in my predictions.

Look Back: Well, we can be thankful that Ohio State is officially eliminated from the national championship picture (knock on wood). But now, we could have a whole different problem on our hands. Penn State won in a defensive, traditional Big-10 battle and remained undefeated. But if they remained undefeated and more than 1 other team remains undefeated, we will, once again, have chaos. Thank you, BCS.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: Oklahoma vs. Texas, in Dallas, Texas

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 12:00 PM ET

Last Week: Oklahoma defeated Baylor, Texas beat Colorado

            After a one-week hiatus, the game of the week column is back with a vengeance.  This column will preview what’s bound to be a season-defining game, the Red River Shootout. But first, I would like to thank SportsZone producer and blog editor Sean for permitting a college football segment in the 10/06 episode. I’m not sure if it was a critical success, but I definitely enjoyed discussing college football with my two co-hosts, Steve and Amanda. Now on to the game…

            The Red River Shootout is always a big rivalry game with a lot of interesting connotations, but this year, its vastness is compounded by the fact that Texas and Oklahoma are both undefeated and in the Top 5. You might think that with the incredible qualities and histories of these storied programs that top 5 matchups would be a fairly recurring occurrence, but in reality, it will be only the tenth time in a 103 year history that the series can brag of that fact.

            But in spite of the obvious reasons for this being a big game (classic rivalry, top 5 matchup, national and Big 12 title implications), this game appeals on multiple other levels as well. First of all, I believe that this is the first true Big 12 conference game. Currently, every Big 12 team has played at least conference game, but this is where the real season for the Big 12 begins.

            The Big 12 features 6 currently ranked teams, with 4 in the top 10 and 3 in the top 5. None of them have played each other until now. In fact, to me, the story of the second half of the 2008 season will be who emerges from the Big 12. Because no one has played each other and none of the teams have truly played anyone special out of conference (one of the ranked teams, Kansas, lost to South Florida in their “marquee” non-conference matchup), the rest of the season will determine the “contenders” and “pretenders” in the conference, and the Red River Shootout is just the tip of the iceberg.

            In addition this game could have a muscular impact on the Heisman Trophy Race. Two candidates, one on each team, faceoff on Saturday, and they won’t compete against each other correctly because they are both on the offensive side of the ball (and play the same position). Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford has slightly more prolific numbers than Texas QB Colt McCoy, but McCoy is a bit more mobile, with 317 rushing yards to Bradford’s negative 23. However, Bradford is a full-fledged contender, while McCoy is more of a dark horse. Still, both are excellent quarterbacks and if one of them outperforms the other (with a stellar performance of course), he could make a major case for the Heisman.

            As for the game itself, as alluded to in the quarterback discussion, both teams have a powerful, high-octane offenses, which is a trend in the Big 12 this year. But both teams can play defense as well. Texas has a scoring margin of 35.8 points per game while Oklahoma averages the exact same number (The Sooners score about two more points and allow about two more points than the Longhorns do). Texas is # 1 in scoring defense in the Big 12, and Oklahoma is # 2 (same for sacks by). Oklahoma is # 1 in total defense and Texas is # 2.

            Teams appear to be fairly even in special teams with a slight edge to Texas. Neither team has kicked many field goals but they have made all the ones they have attempted.  Texas leads the conference in punting while Oklahoma is near the bottom in punt returns. Plus, Oklahoma has missed two PATs while Texas has been perfect in that regard.

            A quick note about these offenses: I already talked about how great the quarterbacks were, but these teams can run the ball as well. Whoever can establish the run better can set up more effective play action plays, and that could be a key factor in the outcome of the game.           

Other than that, there’s not much left to say; the game is so important that not a lot truly needs to be said. And, unlike Alabama who has surprised many fans with its success, these teams are known commodities. All there’s left to do is just sit back and enjoy the game.

Prediction: The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the national championship game. However, they will be driving on a bumpy road.  For Texas, this game begins a difficult four game set against 4 out of the 6 ranked Big 12 teams (and Texas is included in that 6). Oklahoma will not have such an arduous task, but they will have some difficult games down the road.  As for the prediction, you would expect this one to live to its “shootout” billing, at least on the offensive side of the ball, but sometimes expectations do not come into fruition, and these teams have the defenses to subdue the powerful offenses. Still, I believe it will be a relatively high scoring game with Oklahoma winning 28-24. Justification: Oklahoma has never trailed this entire season, and that’s impressive, no matter the competition.

Explanation: I did not write my column last week for a few reasons. First of all, I had a lot of work.  Nevertheless, I still had plenty of opportunities to write, and the reason I didn’t was because I could not interest myself in the game I intended to write about, Ohio State-Wisconsin. I did turn out to be a good game, and we learned two things: Wisconsin is really mediocre, and people still are going to push for Ohio State to play in the national championship if they have one loss and things go their way because Beanie Wells did not play vs. USC and Terrelle Pryor wasn’t the full time starter.  We’ll see what happens with the Buckeyes and the Big 10. But, sorry to anyone who hates this column and thought that I had quit writing it, because I believe I will continue to write.

Look Back Two Weeks: So, I was glad I was wrong about the Alabama-Georgia game. That game shows the importance of the offensive line. John Parker Wilson had a great game, but struggled the next week vs. Kentucky, and ask any NFL scout, he would rather have Matthew Stafford. Alabama has great running backs, but Knowshon Moreno is a special talent. Without their incredible offensive line and Georgia’s young one, I do not think Alabama would have one. As for Georgia, they still could win the SEC east. As for Alabama, they probably have been the most surprising and impressive team of the 1st half of the season. They have 4 of their 6 remaining games at home, and with the decline of Auburn and Tennessee, the only game they will be an underdog will be at LSU (depending on what LSU does). They are a serious national championship contender, but they must avoid upsets and play consistently.

By: Brennan Marks SZ Contributing Writer

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