The Numerical, Week 9: Title-caliber surges and flaming metaphors

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Marqise Lee goes nuts, Kansas State and Notre Dame look like true title contenders, and Gio Bernard is criminally underrated at this point.

0. Points scored by Ohio State in its first six possessions at Penn State. The Buckeyes averaged just 3.0 yards per play and trailed, 7-0, late in the second quarter. But then the proverbial switch got flipped. Penn State got called for holding on an Ohio State punt, Braxton Miller ripped off a 33-yard run to set up a Carlos Hyde touchdown, Ohio State tied the game before halftime, then took off. The Buckeyes' final five possessions saw 44 plays for 292 yards, and a 7-0 deficit turned into a 35-16 lead and, eventually, a 35-23 win. Urban Meyer's squad is not playing at a truly elite level, but it just passed its toughest remaining road test. Standing between Meyer and an undefeated season: Illinois (November 3), at Joel Stave-less Wisconsin (November 17), and Michigan (November 24).

Of course, Ohio State wasn't alone in its switch-flipping. Fresno State was held scoreless in its first five drives against New Mexico. The Bulldogs fell behind, 21-0, in Albuquerque, gaining just 93 yards, throwing a pick six and turning the ball over on downs. Then, in the game's final 39 minutes, they gained 503 yards and scored 49 points. Game for game, Fresno State has quite possibly been the nation's best mid-major this year but were forced to go to Boise State and suffered through another slow start in a 20-10 loss. That will almost certainly prevent them from earning the Mountain West title and the credit they have otherwise earned.

Kansas State didn't wait as long to catch fire. The Wildcats gained just 22 yards and punted twice in their first two drives … then gained 404 yards no 52 plays and scored 55 points in a damn impressive 55-24 romp over a good Texas Tech team. The Wildcats do still have some hurdles to clear (Oklahoma State and Texas at home, TCU and Baylor on the road), but this team has increasingly taken on the look of one that isn't going to succumb to the pressures of an undefeated season. In fact, they have begun to almost look better each week. The best news of all? No Big 12 title game.

(Sorry, KSU fans. That was a low blow.)


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1. All-time SEC conference wins for Missouri following a 33-10 victory over Kentucky. (And yes, beating Kentucky counts.) Some combination of quarterback and line injuries, mistakes and fantastic competition have made this a more frustrating season than Mizzou perhaps anticipated, but they're on the board. And apparently, Mizzou is selling a shirt to commemorate the occasion. Dear Mizzou fans: NOBODY BUY THIS STUPID SHIRT. MY GOD. (Yes, I know that they probably made up shirts for every conference game this year, and this is sadly the first applicable one, but the point stands. My god.)

1.9. Yards per play averaged by Michigan after quarterback Denard Robinson went down and freshman Russell Bellomy took over. The Wolverines averaged 3.8 yards per play and scored six points behind a rather erratic Robinson; they gained just 53 yards in 28 plays without him. Bellomy's stat line was unfortunate: 3-for-16 for 38 yards, three picks, two sacks and 1.2 yards per pass attempt. Needless to say, Michigan lost. Of course, the Wolverines still fared better, per play, than Wisconsin did when Joel Stave went down. Stave had completed nine of 11 passes for 127 yards, and the Badgers had averaged 5.7 yards per play through four drives against the stout Michigan State defense. But he was lost for the season with a broken collarbone, and behind replacement Danny O'Brien, Wisconsin ran 33 plays … and gained 43 yards. State's own hapless offense kept Wisconsin in the game, but the Spartans eventually won in overtime.

5. Fumbles recovered by Duke in a 48-7 loss to Florida State. The Blue Devils recovered all of the game's loose balls and forced four Florida State turnovers. And lost by 41. And we might see a rematch in the ACC title game.

7. Maryland players who have thrown a pass in the last two years. Granted, one was freshman receiver Stefon Diggs this year, and one was receiver Tony Logan last year. But five quarterbacks have thrown passes (four have thrown at least 44), and that number will grow to six this coming Saturday when freshman linebacker Shawn Petty takes over behind center because there are no healthy scholarship quarterbacks remaining. Two went down two games ago, and one more (freshman Caleb Rowe) went down on Saturday against Boston College. This is incredible. It's like the Iowa running backs curse squared. Better yet: Maryland is actually 4-4 (if they were in the ACC Coastal division, the Terps would be tied for the division lead in the loss column), having already doubled its win total from last year. If not for Duke's David Cutcliffe, head coach Randy Edsall would be the runaway favorite for ACC Coach of the Year. You know, the same Randy Edsall that we all laughed at for going horribly in 2011 and losing half of his roster to transfer in the offseason.

9. Turnovers in Georgia's 17-9 win over Florida. This game was intense, physical, hostile, and incredibly sloppy. Florida fumbled six times (lost four), Georgia threw three interceptions, and the teams combined for 24 penalties for 227 yards. Georgia won the turnover points battle by 17.3, which obviously made an enormous difference, but really, you could boil the game down to two passes. One scored, one did not.


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17. Points scored by Notre Dame in its final three possessions in a 30-13 win at Oklahoma. Oklahoma tied the game at 13-13 with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and Notre Dame had scored only six points in its last six possessions, but the Irish caught fire at the perfect time and closed like, well, a national title contender. Everett Golson (a redshirt freshman) completed a 50-yard bomb to Chris Brown to set up the go-ahead score, Manti Te'o intercepted a pass in OU territory, and the Irish kicked a field goal, forced a turnover on downs, then scored again to finish the game. It was an incredible display of fortitude. In one of our last years of having to choose two national title participants, we now officially have four undefeated, truly national title-caliber teams: Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame.

30. Kent State's AP ranking (if the official rankings went that far, anyway). Darrell Hazell's Golden Flashes are 7-1 following a shocking (and shockingly easy) 35-23 win over previously undefeated Rutgers and, with a couple more wins, could crack the AP Top 25 for the first time since they reached No. 19 in 1973 under future national championship coach (at Washington) Don James. Of course, in their lone game as a ranked team, Kent State lost to Miami (Ohio), its coming opponent on November 10.

33. Points allowed by Bowling Green over its last five contests. The Falcons are suddenly churning out one of the best defenses in the country, no matter the conference. Yes, the dominance is coming against mostly poor competition, but still: 6.6 points per game, 207.8 yards per game. That's absurd. Unfortunately, Ohio lost to Miami (Ohio) this past weekend; that ruined my "BGSU is going to end Ohio's win streak on the road" pick for Wednesday, November 7.

74. Length, in yards, of this punt return by North Carolina's Giovani Bernard.

The incredible score broke a tie in the game's final seconds and capped a positively absurd October for the sophomore. In four games, Bernard carried 97 times for 717 yards and six touchdowns, caught 20 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, and returned six punts for 119 yards and a touchdown. He missed two games (both UNC losses) and carried just 29 times in September, but his October alone should probably get him onto people's Heisman lists. With all due, and necessary, respect to Oregon's Kenjon Barner and others, Bernard is the best running back in college football right now.

134. Oregon State's yardage margin versus Washington. The then-undefeated Beavers put together a solid overall performance, gaining 427 yards to Washington's 293, holding Huskies quarterback Keith Price to 5.8 yards per pass attempt, and getting 145 yards in 16 touches from star speedster Brandin Cooks. But the Beavers couldn't protect the football. They turned the ball over four times (all Sean Mannion picks) and almost literally handed Washington the ball game and gave away their undefeated record.

202. Sammy Watkins' receiving yards in a 42-13 Clemson win over Wake Forest. It was somehow Watkins' first 100-yard receiving game since last October 29 (nine catches for 153 against Georgia Tech). Watkins has battled injury, suspension, more energy and generally mediocre performances, but in the last two weeks he now has 16 catches for 286 yards. Clemson's offense was good without Watkins contributing, but with him? Yikes.

469. Passing yards for Tulane's Ryan Griffin in a 55-45 win over UTEP. The senior has completed 79 of 118 passes for 1,131 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception in the last three weeks as Tulane has gone from completely hapless to interesting. The Green Wave averaged 8.3 points per game in four contests without Griffin and has averaged 34.0 (with two wins) in the last three weeks.

Of course, 469 yards might become less impressive when you realize that that was also the distance Marqise Lee traveled with the ball in his hands against Arizona. The incredible sophomore caught 16 of 19 passes for 345 yards and two scores, carried once for one yard, and gained 123 more yards on three kickoff returns, including a 72-yarder in the fourth quarter that almost bailed out a flailing Trojans squad. And he came really, really close to catching a last-second Hail Mary as well. It is almost criminal that his team lost this game. Can we say that Lee is 7-1 even if the rest of his team is only 6-2?

704. Days (and counting) since Alabama allowed more than 14 points in a game versus FBS competition. The Crimson Tide took down Mississippi State, 38-7, on Saturday. How dominant is Nick Saban's squad right now? Mississippi State came into the game ranked 11th in the country, gained 256 yards and scored seven points, and my initial thought was "The Bulldogs acquitted themselves pretty well!"

835. Combined rushing and receiving yards gained by South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore in 2012. Get well soon, Marcus.

1,855. Days between double-digit, Big Ten road wins for Indiana. The Hoosiers beat Iowa, 38-20, on September 29, 2007 (which was their first such win since 2001), then beat Illinois, 31-17, last Saturday. Kevin Wilson still has a lot of building to do in Bloomington, but he has figured some things out offensively this year. Indiana is averaging 34.3 points per game and has scored at least 27 points in every Big Ten contest this year. It took facing Illinois' hapless offense to record enough defensive stops to win a game, but a step forward is still a step forward.

Comparatively speaking, then, Ole Miss' own streak of in-conference futility was minor. But still, until Saturday, it had been three years since the Rebels had logged back-to-back conference wins. The Rebels beat Tennessee and LSU in November 2009, then lost 18 of their next 19 games. But a romp over Auburn and a three-point road win over Arkansas have given Hugh Freeze's squad a 5-3 record, 2-2 in conference. Even the Rebels' two losses were respectable: 33-14 to Alabama (which almost counts as a win, I think), and 30-27 to No. 16 Texas A&M. As with Indiana, there is still work to be done here, but Freeze has taken Houston Nutt's leftovers and turned them into a pretty tasty casserole, one that will quite possibly [ALERT: THE METAPHOR WILL NOW FALL APART IN A FLAMING PILE OF WRECKAGE] become postseason-eligible in the coming weeks.

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