It is the most sobering of ironies: While college football is a complete mess off the field, the game being played on the field is better than it has ever been.
At the end of a week where a college president (R. Bowen Loftin of Texas A&M) proclaimed that his institution was being "held hostage" by the Big 12 and it looked like the most intense competition in sport was about to take place inside of a courtroom, college football did not let us down. In fact, it delivered in spades -- again.
Consider: Of 65 games involving FBS schools this weekend, 23 were decided by seven points or less. Three more were decided by eight points.
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And there was drama. Man, was there drama. It started Friday night when Arizona State beat Missouri 37-30 in overtime, and it ended with one of the great atmospheres in college football when Michigan scored with two seconds left to beat Notre Dame 35-31 at The Big House.
Just a few reminders of the great weekend that was:
1. Winning is a habit. So is losing: With 23 seniors, a Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton) and an all-world defensive tackle (Nick Fairley) gone from last season's national championship team, it is not an insult to say that Auburn is not as talented as it was in 2010. But Auburn is 2-0 because winning, like losing, can become a habit. For two straight weeks Auburn has simply found a way to win. A week ago the Tigers needed two touchdowns (and a successful onside kick) inside the final two minutes to beat Utah State, which ran 84 plays against the Tigers. On Saturday a lot of people (including me) thought Mississippi State would roll. Actually, the Bulldogs did roll, running an incredible 97 plays vs. the Auburn defense. But when the game was on the line, Auburn made the play it had to make, stopping Mississippi State on the 1-foot line as time expired.
Georgia, meanwhile, showed that losing is a habit. The Bulldogs outplayed South Carolina but gave up 21 points on turnovers and allowed a 265-pound lineman (Melvin Ingram) to rumble 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt. Georgia is now 6-9 in its past 15 games.
2. The Pac-12 got it right: The Pac-12 caused quite a stir Saturday night when it took points off the board at the end of the Utah-Southern California game only to put them back on about two hours later. USC led 17-14 and Utah had a chance to tie the game with a last-second field goal. The kick was blocked and USC's Torin Harris returned it for a touchdown. With the clock showing zeroes, parts of the USC bench emptied onto the field before the play was over.
Officials originally ruled that the act of coming onto the field should be a live-ball penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which is a new rule this season. But the new rule also contains a stipulation for just this type of situation. It is not a live ball foul for the players leaving the bench on the last play if it does not impact the play on the field. So the Pac-12 got it right and the final score was 23-14.
Of course that doesn't help the bookies who had to pay off both sides on the game. The point spread was 8½.
|With Al Borges calling the plays, Denard Robinson has become the most exciting player to watch this season. (AP)|
4. It looks like Garrett Gilbert might be done as the starter at Texas: Texas trailed 13-3 at halftime and coach Mack Brown did something he did not want to do: He pulled quarterback Garrett Gilbert in favor of Case McCoy (brother of Colt) and true freshman David Ash. It was the spark that Texas needed to come back and beat Brigham Young 17-16. And it could be that Gilbert, the hometown boy from Austin, has seen his last start as Texas prepares to go to UCLA. It serves as a cautionary tale.
Gilbert, you'll recall, was inserted into the BCS championship game against Alabama in 2009 when Colt McCoy was hurt. After a shaky start he played pretty well. Still, Gilbert wasn't ready last season when he was thrown into the fire and had 17 interceptions during the Longhorns' disastrous 5-7 season. He threw two interceptions among his eight pass attempts before being pulled Saturday. Putting a young quarterback on the field before he is ready can shake his confidence. As a high school senior Gilbert was the Gatorade and Parade national player of the year.
5. A quick turnaround for LSU, Mississippi State: Mississippi State not only ran 97 plays but it outgained Auburn 531-381 in a seven-point loss. But the Bulldogs don't have time to sulk. That's because No. 3 LSU comes to Starkville on Thursday for a prime-time matchup. LSU easily handled Northwestern State 49-3 but the news was that quarterback Zack Mettenberger, a junior college transfer, got his first snaps for the Tigers. Mettenberger, who started at Georgia and left after some legal difficulties, completed eight of 11 passes for 92 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass. With former starter Jordan Jefferson on indefinite suspension, the belief by many in Baton Rouge is that Mettenberger will eventually be needed to contribute if LSU is going to make a run at the national championship. So to see him have some success before the SEC opener was a big lift to Tigers fans. Don't forget that LSU goes to West Virginia on Sept. 24.
Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.