1998. One of my favorite college football seasons, and one I've been thinking about a lot since Saturday. That year, a clear, superior team (Ohio State) emerged, proving itself better than anybody else in the country and then losing at home to a double-digit underdog. Sound familiar?
In the Buckeyes' place stepped a veteran squad (Tennessee) that may have lacked the same level of star power (then again ... Al Wilson, Peerless Price, etc.) or the same level of superiority of which Ohio State could brag. But they kept winning.
Following the fall of the favorite, three undefeated, BCS-conference teams jostled for positioning, and each took its flawless record into December. But on December 5, No. 2 Kansas State (an explosive team with incredible speed on both sides of the ball) fell to a multi-loss Texas A&M team in the Big 12 title game, and UCLA (a rather one-dimensional squad led by an explosive offense and faulty defense) lost a predictable shootout at Miami. Instead of the Ohio State-Tennessee or Ohio State-Kansas State matchups we expected heading toward November, and instead of the Tennessee-KSU or Tennessee-UCLA game we expected heading into December, we got Tennessee versus ... Florida State, a team that had been written off after losing its best player (Chris Weinke).
Right now, the only major similarity I see between 1998 and 2012 is the fact that the overwhelming favorite just lost at home. But if this next month plays out in similar fashion? Hmm ...
- ...Kansas State is Tennessee, experienced and disturbingly steady.
- ...Oregon is Kansas State, explosive and seemingly unstoppable.
- ...Notre Dame is UCLA, a bit one-dimensional (the Irish rely on their defense, however) and a bit lucky (the Bruins won three one-possession games down the stretch, while the Irish have won their last three home games by a combined 13 points, two in overtime).
- ...and for grins, Georgia is Florida State, made rather one-dimensional by the loss of a star (though, granted, Jarvis Jones only missed a couple of games and has since returned) and lurking below the radar behind the perceived Top 4.
And if the late turn of events is the same, then...
- ...Michigan State's win over Ohio State in 1998 is equivalent to Texas A&M's over Alabama (Michigan State was coached by Nick Saban, by the way).
- ...Oregon will lose in overtime in the Pac-12 title game (then lose an uninspired Fiesta Bowl?).
- ...Notre Dame will either lose to USC a week before championship week or suddenly be forced to play in a hurricane-delayed contest on December 1 (admittedly, that last part might be the biggest stretch, ahem).
- ...we'll be watching Kansas State play Georgia for the national title in Miami on January 7.
Fine, so the analogy falls apart after a while. But hey, now if we end up with KSU-UGA, you can say somebody predicted it, right? And who wouldn't be up for another chaotic finish like that season saw?
564. Wisconsin rushing yards in a rather cruel 62-14 win over Indiana. The winner of this game in Bloomington would be the favorite to make the Big Ten title game from the Leaders division, and while it was easy to get starry-eyed at the thought of Indiana making a miracle run to the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin squashed those happy thoughts like a bug. The Badgers scored on their first three possessions, forced punts or fumbles on each of Indiana's first five, and made this game a laugher very, very quickly. Montee Ball and James White combined to carry 41 times, gain 359 yards and score five touchdowns. Rude, Bret Bielema. Very rude.
Also rude: Clemson's defense, allowing poor Maryland only 180 yards in a 45-10 Clemson win. Clemson's D is still only decent (which is an improvement over the end of 2011, obviously), but it had far too much for a Terrapin offense that was not only starting a freshman linebacker at quarterback because of injuries, but was also without star freshman receiver Stefon Diggs. Randy Edsall's first year on the job (2011) was full of self-inflicted wounds (a 2-10 record, replete with an incredible number of transfers), but he has done a great job just to pull Maryland to 4-6 in his second year.
400. Yards gained in 27 touches (25 carries, two receptions) by Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey against Colorado. I keep vowing to stop piling on the lowly Buffaloes, but each week I get sucked back into doing so. Carey carried 25 times for 366 yards and five touchdowns and caught two passes for 34 yards. Without quarterback Matt Scott, the Wildcats gained 574 yards ... on 52 plays. They averaged 11.0 yards per play without their starting quarterback. I'm actually starting to get angry at Colorado for being this bad, though at least the offense showed up a bit (437 yards, 31 points). That offensive output just barely helped the Buffs stave off a last-place F/+ ranking. They currently rank 123rd, just 0.6 percent ahead of New Mexico State.
Carey's fantastic game totally overshadowed that of Kent State running backs Trayion Durham and Dri Archer, who had to combine to gain 403 yards and score five touchdowns in a 48-32 win over Miami (Ohio). At 9-1, Kent State now ranks an incredible 40th in the F/+ rankings. It had been 25 years since the Golden Flashes won even seven games in a season, 37 years since they had won eight and 40 since they had won nine. One more win, against either Bowling Green (Nov. 17), Ohio (Nov. 23), or a MAC title game or bowl opponent, and they will be in double digits for the first time, and in only head coach Darrell Hazell's second season. Hazell is a Jim Tressel disciple and (earmuffs, KSU fans) could become a pretty hot commodity in the next couple of Decembers (a.k.a. Coaching Change Season). The last guy who took Kent to nine wins (Don James) ended up with a pretty decent career, yes?
199. Yards gained by Rutgers in two easy touchdown drives against Army. Of course, the Scarlet Knights gained only 133 yards the rest of the game. They won, 28-7, but were outgained, 337-252, by the Black Knights, didn't break a 7-7 tie until nine minutes remained in the game, and didn't officially put the game away until a fumble return touchdown with under a minute left. Rutgers is the de facto Big East favorite now, but you'd prefer the Scarlet Knights look better than this if they are going to end up in a BCS bowl. Then again, they didn't have to look better than this, so maybe they were just saving all of their tricks for the home stretch (at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Louisville).
123. Points scored in last year's Toledo-Northern Illinois game, a 63-60 NIU win that included 532 rushing yards, 589 passing yards and two kick return touchdowns. It kicked off the best month of mid-week MACtion ever, and while this year's MACtion has thus far paled in comparison, it bears mentioning that the two teams face off in DeKalb Wednesday evening. NIU is 9-1, dominant and criminally unranked, and Toledo was ranked until last week's upset loss to Ball State. This could -- nay, will -- be fun.
100. Percentage of SEC schools with either official openings (Kentucky) or soon-to-be openings (Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn) to whom Bobby Petrino has now been linked on the Internet. To fans, class and character are important. But winning is about 100 times more important. We'll see if any of those schools' athletic directors feel the same way.
68. Points scored by Georgia Tech in an 18-point win at North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets made 11 trips inside UNC's 40-yard line, scoring nine touchdowns and kicking two field goals. The Tar Heels' offense was just fine -- 50 points and 497 yards including another 170 yards on 22 touches by Giovani Bernard -- but the defense had no hope for ever getting a timely stop. Or any stop, really.
53. Length of this pass from Michigan's Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree:
That came with 18 seconds left and Michigan down three points. The Wolverines would tie the game with the field goal and eventually win in overtime. Throughout his career, Roundtree has been one of the least-efficient, most explosive receivers in college football, with terrible catch rates and great per-catch averages. You hate to have to rely on players like that, but if you need a miracle with under 30 seconds left in the game, it's nice to have one laying around.
47. Yards gained by Texas on its first play of the game, run out of the Wishbone in honor of the late Darrell K. Royal.
Yeah, no way was Texas losing after that.
19. Syracuse's winning margin over previously undefeated Louisville. Louisville was 9-0 and clearing its throat to politely enter the national title conversation, but the Cardinals ranked just 43rd in the F/+ rankings and, really, were not deserving of inclusion in said conversation. But as I've already said many times this month, November has a way of tying up some loose ends.
9. Turnovers in USC's 38-17 win over Arizona State. USC committed five of them, with Marqise Lee losing a fumble for the second straight week and Matt Barkley throwing three interceptions. But thanks to a long bomb to Lee and a resurgent USC defense that allowed just 250 yards and took the ball away four times, the Trojans kept pace with UCLA in a tighter-than-they-wanted Pac-12 South race.
UCLA, meanwhile, needed a little luck to remain half a game ahead (they're 5-2, USC's 5-3). The Bruins somehow blocked four Washington State kicks (two field goals, two punts) and returned one for a touchdown. With 19 minutes remaining, UCLA led, 44-14, but a Wazzu charge made things interesting. The Cougars scored three times in the game's final 16 minutes to fall short by just eight, 44-36. WSU outgained UCLA by 190 yards, but the aforementioned blocked field goal touchdown and a fumble return touchdown moved UCLA to 8-2 regardless.
And speaking of blocked kicks, Florida beat UL-Lafayette with one (and the ensuing touchdown return) in the final seconds, and -- wait, what's that? We're not to ever talk about that game? Never mind, then.
2.7. Missouri's average yards per play in the first half against Tennessee. That the Tigers trailed only 21-7 at halftime was a minor miracle considering they were outgained, 383-64, but Tennessee lost a fumble near Mizzou's goal line and missed a field goal, and Mizzou's Jimmie Hunt returned a kickoff for a touchdown to keep the Tigers close. In the second half, the game flipped. Mizzou sent the game to overtime by gaining 307 yards (6.7 per play) and won with injury-plagued quarterback James Franklin completing his final four third- and fourth-down passes for 70 yards and three touchdowns. With a win over Syracuse at home this weekend, the Tigers will be bowl eligible, something that seemed incredibly unlikely before Saturday.
The most random box score tidbit you'll read today: two players named Shaq scored defensive TDs for Colorado State yesterday.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) November 11, 2012
2, also: Fumbles lost by Penn State in Nebraska's red zone in a 32-23 Nebraska win. Zach Zwinak, who had an otherwise fantastic game (24 touches for 178 yards and a touchdown), lost one in the first quarter, and tight end Matt Lehman lost a very controversial one in the fourth. On Lehman's, replay suggested the ball crossed the plane of the goal line before coming loose, but the replay official deemed it too close to call, and the original call stood.
This being college football, the ensuing reaction was totally rational. A Penn State columnist deemed it proof that the Nittany Lions should have received the death penalty (naturally), while a Nebraska beat writer considered it karma for a blown call in 1982 (of course). By the way, 1982 was 30 years ago. Karma, you are evidently a strange, patient mistress.
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