I Am Become Bret Bieleman Destroyer of the Big Ten. Last week, I wrote nothing at all about Wisconsin's great offensive showing against Michigan, mostly because it wasn't quite as impressive as the 83-20 evisceration of Indiana one week prior. Now, after a 70-23 destruction of Northwestern, it's time to talk about Wisconsin in the context of one of the best offenses in college football history.
In its last three games, Wisconsin's scored 201 points and gained 1,715 yards, or just slightly less than a mile. How historic is that? Well, the 2008 Oklahoma team that set scoring records, while more consistent than these Badgers, never scored more than 193 points in a three-game span, and only barely pipped the Badgers in yardage, with 1,783 yards. (And, it should be noted, Wisconsin didn't score in the fourth quarter of this week's game, so those 201 points came in just 11 quarters.)
But that discrepancy between the Badgers and Sooners is a matter of efficiency, more than anything. Dr. Saturday's Matt Hinton once developed concepts called yards for points and "wasted yards" to measure how much of a team's yardage translated to points. In its last three games, Wisconsin has 1,530 yards for points, meaning its percentage of yards for points is an incredible 89.2 percent figure that matches well with this stat: Wisconsin's scored on 29 of a possible 39 drives in the last three games.
And, in case you think that this is a scoring streak inflated by great special teams play or fluky defensive touchdowns, consider this: Wisconsin's only non-offensive touchdowns in that period were interception returns in the backup-heavy fourth quarter against Indiana and the third quarter against Northwestern, and of those 29 scoring drives, 23 have covered 40 yards or more.
All of that is an excuse to say this: the projected Rose Bowl pitting Wisconsin against TCU, the nation's top scoring and total defense, is probably my most-anticipated game of this bowl season. And if you want another reason for a playoff rather than the BCS system, it's sort of a shame that that game will happen a month from now, rather than this or next weekend, meaning time will cool the Badgers before the Horned Frogs get a chance.
Auburn's New Weapon: Defense? Cam Newton may have sealed his Heisman Trophy over the weekend — I'm guessing that voters like rallies from 24-0 deficits — but wasn't quite Cam Newton against Alabama, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry and throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns partly because of one of the worst blown coverages Mark Barron will ever be responsible for. Instead, the key to Auburn's massive comeback in the Iron Bowl was, somehow, the Tigers' defense.
After Greg McElroy had thrown for 335 yards in the first half — a new career high for any full game — he was limited to 42 yards through the air in the second half, thrown for sacks three times, and concussed. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson were stymied in both halves, picking up their combined 60 rushing yards in equal measure before and after halftime. And the Alabama offense produced three points on five drives and just 55 yards on 30 plays, for an average of 1.8 yards that's only mere hundredths of a yard better than what the 'Bama defense limited Newton to on the ground.
There are a lot of ways one could blame Alabama's offense for those struggles — bad play-calling that led to long-yardage downs and two damaging third down penalties that made a third and one into a third and five and a third and five into a third and 10 would be good places to start — but, no matter what role the Crimson Tide played in their own struggles, Auburn's defense was able to put the clamps on after being incinerated early. That showed an admirable amount of tenacity.
It's still not a good defense, by any means: 57th in scoring defense and 58th in total defense, no one will confuse Auburn's unit for anything other than mediocre. But what that group did for one half against an offense many predicted would be Alabama's best ever — and one that will likely produce no fewer than three first-round NFL Draft picks — was great.
Northern Illinois: The Mid-Major Wisconsin? You may have learned that Northern Illinois earned its first ranking of this season after a 71-3 throttling of Eastern Michigan. But did you know that the Huskies are essentially the Wisconsin of the MAC, with a MAC equivalent of Cam Newton under center?
In their last three games, the Huskies have put up 195 points on Toledo, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan — and those last two games were on the road. They're quarterbacked by Chandler Harnish, who is one of the lesser-known gems of this season: he's completed 66 percent of his passes for almost 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns against just five interceptions and has run for 761 yards, gaining 6.4 yards per carry. Add in Chad Spann, a running back with 1,239 yards, 20 touchdowns, and scores in every game after Northern Illinois' season-opening loss to Iowa State, and the Huskies have one of the nation's finest backfields, and a chance to go 12-2 with wins in this week's MAC Championship Game against Miami University and a bowl game.
The Still Sponsor-Free Conference USA Shootout of the Week. Tulsa 56, Southern Miss 50. In the season's marquee matchup of schools with "Golden" in their team names, the two teams combined for 1,197 yards. Tulsa finished a 9-3 season, yet won't play for the Conference USA title because of a loss to SMU; the Golden Eagles have scored 109 points in the last two weeks, and are 1-1. (And I haven't had to stretch for this section once this year.)
The Also Sponsor-Free MAC Foot-Shooting of the Week. Tie: Akron 22, Buffalo 14; Kent State 28, Ohio 6. Buffalo lost to the previous winless Zips despite outgaining them and benefiting from two missed Akron extra points. It's also entirely possible that these are the two worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and yet 5,216 people came out for this game, which took place at 2 p.m. on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, Ohio had a chance to win the MAC East Division, and blew it by gaining just 183 yards, committing four turnovers, and going two-for-16 on third down against a Kent State team that won't go to a bowl. Bright side: the Bobcats went four-of-six on fourth down!
The Sun Belt Agonizing Moment of the Week. Louisiana-Lafayette 23, Louisiana-Monroe 22. That one-point difference? A blocked extra point with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The FCS Score of the Week. Grambling State 38, Southern 17. Is this purely an excuse to show you Southern's band doing Kanye West's "All of the Lights" at the Bayou Classic's Battle of the Bands? (It's at 4:54.)
Well, yes. But that was worth it, wasn't it? (Also, Grambling's kicker is named Zoltan Riazzo.)
The Division II Or Below Score of the Week. Shepherd 41, Kutztown 34. The teams combined for 48 fourth quarter points. This category may get boring very soon!
Notable Numbers. Stats too brief for elaboration, and too good for tweets.
Hawai'i's Alex Green ran for 327 yards on 19 carries against New Mexico State, a healthy 17.2 yards per carry; it's only slightly less than what New Mexico State's leading rushers have tallied for the season. ... UCLA raced out to a 17-0 lead against Arizona State and lost 55-34. ... All five players who carried the ball for Oregon against Arizona gained over 40 yards in the Ducks' 48-29 victory. ... Boise State goat Kyle Brotzman is just nine points shy of the FBS scoring record; his two late misses against Nevada were just the second and third field goals of less than 30 yards he's missed in his career. ... Syracuse lost 17-6 to Boston College, and has averaged just 17.2 points per game against FBS team despite playing Akron and playing in the Big East, so just trust me when I suggest maybe not betting on the Orange in their bowl game, okay? ... The reported attendance for Miami's game against South Florida was 41,148, and if you believe that number, surely I'm actually the late Leslie Nielsen. (And don't call me Shirley.) ... Over the past two weeks, Northern Illinois has scored 124 points. ... Four separate Maryland players rushed for negative yardage against North Carolina State. ... It's better covered elsewhere, but the fourth quarter of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State featured 40 points and four touchdowns in a 1:32 span. ... Kansas State and North Texas traded consecutive kickoff return touchdowns — but they happened in separate quarters, one at the end of the third quarter and one at the beginning of the fourth, in the Wildcats' 49-41 win.