Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: OU, Wisconsin losses kick open BCS door


This may have been Week Eight for College Football 2011, but it felt like the real beginning of the season.

On Saturday, we had a stunning upset and a wild, for-the-ages finish -- it was a few hours of pure mayhem and college football at its finest. Thankfully, it's only just now heating up.

One week after the initial BCS standings were released, we saw the biggest upset of the season: Oklahoma, a 29-point favorite riding a 39-game home winning streak, fell in Norman to unranked Texas Tech. The previous biggest shocker of the season, at least by Vegas standards, had been when Minnesota (a team now 1-6) was upset by New Mexico State, a 22.5-point underdog.

The Sooners' loss, though, has national implications. OU had poll position. The Sooners wouldn't have ended up slotted above an undefeated SEC champ, which would likely be the LSU-Alabama winner, but OU figured to be the other team ticketed for the BCS title game, ahead of all other potential undefeated teams from power conferences, namely Stanford and Clemson.

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The path to the title game is suddenly not so rocky for those Pac-12 and ACC unbeatens. At least now they are closer to controlling their own destiny. Wisconsin getting knocked off, thanks to a Hail Mary finish by Michigan State, a few hours earlier triggered the madness.

Of course, there are two more unbeatens remaining in the Big 12 -- Oklahoma State and Kansas State -- but each has a much more challenging route than Clemson or Stanford. Suddenly, the Sooners seem to be in the role of spoiler.

Another option that just became a little more viable: a potential LSU-Alabama rematch for the BCS title. I realize that thought probably has the rest of the country wincing given how down the rest of the SEC is, but when a league wins an unprecedented five BCS titles in a row, you're going to get a lot of benefit of the doubt. And if ever there appeared to be a ripe set of circumstances for such a rematch, this could be it. I doubt we'd get LSU-'Bama Part II if there's an undefeated Stanford, Clemson or Big 12 champ, but we might if it's only Houston and Boise left unbeaten.

That's the macro stuff. The micro portion was riveting Saturday. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins -- one of the best stories of perseverance and humility in college sports -- upstaged RussellMania XVI, Russell Wilson, launching a 44-yard Hail Mary that never will be forgotten in the state of Michigan. In doing so, Cousins has also sparked quite a three-game stretch for the Spartans, beating Ohio State, arch-rival Michigan and a top-five Wisconsin team.

The Spartans have to get re-focused for next week's trip to Nebraska. Wisconsin's national title hopes are gone after Big Ten replay official Tom Herbert correctly overturned a call that had ruled MSU WR Keith Nichol stopped a few inches short of the goal-line as time expired. You couldn't get much more drama.

But as stunning as the finish at MSU was, it wasn't as shocking as watching Texas Tech's Seth Doege shred OU's defense as the Sooners struggled to come back.

Doege is the latest in a long line of prolific Red Raider QBs. He feasted on a defense that had surrendered more than 500 yards a few weeks ago to a Mizzou attack led by an inexperienced quarterback. It certainly didn't help OU's cause that they were without three defensive starters, including standouts in linebacker Tom Wort and cornerback Jamell Fleming.

I wasn't all that surprised to see Doege pick apart OU's D. However, I never expected the nation's No. 82 defense to give Landry Jones problems as it did much of the night. I know Jones threw five TDs, but he really had to work, connecting on less than 55 percent of his passes for the first time in 20 games. It was a great night for Texas Tech and Michigan State and a really great night for college football.

Then again, it's a very long season. We always are too tempted to get ahead of ourselves and do this "if form holds" stuff. Then we get Saturdays like we had yesterday. The only thing we do know that we can count on is that LSU and Alabama will play in two weeks.

Random Stuff

 I realize many people, especially east of California, will dismiss what Stanford has done by the virtue that the Cardinal have beaten up on a bunch of inferior teams. However, I'm on the bandwagon, especially after seeing the way this team mauled a respectable Washington squad. The 65-21 rout of No. 25 Washington marked Stanford's 10th consecutive victory by at least 25 points, an NCAA record dating back almost 80 years.

Everyone knows how special Andrew Luck is, but this team is a lot more than a great QB. The O-line, which has had to replace three starters, has been terrific. Just ask Washington, which came into the game ranked 17th in the nation in run defense, allowing only 97 yards. The Cardinal rolled up 446 yards, and by the time they were finished Washington plummeted to 57th in the national rankings.

Stanford's run defense, which came into the game trailing only Alabama, was banged around by Chris Polk, who gained 118 yards on his first five carries. It was obvious Stanford missed safety Delano Howell but that defense picked up the pace, limiting Washington to a little more than 100 yards in the second half.

Stanford is now 6-1 in its past seven games against ranked opponents.

As outstanding as Keith Price and Polk have been, Steve Sarkisian's defense still is a long way from being worthy of a top-10 team caliber, since it's now surrendered more than 750 yards rushing to the two "physical" teams it has faced. (Nebraska was the other smash-mouth opponent to maul the U-Dub run defense.) Stanford's 65 points was the most points scored against UW since 2001 when the Huskies were routed by arguably the greatest college team of all time in Miami.

 Saturday night in South Bend was supposed to be special for the Irish. It was their first night game at Notre Dame in 21 years. They touted how the Irish helmets were more shiny -- real Golden Domes! They were going to host one of their biggest and most star-studded recruiting weekends in the school's glorious history. A berth to a BCS bowl was getting talked about a lot around the program. Brian Kelly was 12-1 coming off bye weeks. Arch-rival USC was coming in and it sure seemed like the Trojans were limping to the Midwest. Much had been made about after USC's almost-decade long dominance of this rivalry and how much things had turned in the past year. In 2010, the Irish upset USC. This year, they were supposed to blown them out. The gap was going to widen. N.D. was almost a double-digit favorite. (I'd be curious when the last time USC was that big of an underdog to an unranked opponent.)

And then the game kicked off and USC whupped the Irish. Did the things to N.D. that N.D. was supposed to do to them. They outrushed the Irish 219 yards to 41 yards. It was the Irish imploding, making the mental mistakes, looking like they weren't as well prepared, looking like they were lost in the moment. USC jumped to a 17-0 lead and pushed N.D. around all night.

It was, by far, the biggest win of Lane Kiffin's coaching career. A statement game. Maybe not so much to the rest of the country, but perhaps, more importantly to the USC community. There had been a growing amount of skepticism whether Kiffin was capable of winning big games and leading this program. Leading them through the hefty NCAA sanctions is one thing. Kiffin's a superb recruiter. He'll get talent, but could he really coach it and run the program? Till Saturday night, he hadn't proven he could.

Kiffin, though, outcoached Kelly. And if you needed proof of how sharp the brash young USC coach is as an offensive mind and a play-caller, look at what the Trojans did in their first 21 plays. Twenty of them either went for a touchdown or gained 4 yards or more.

Despite knowing that the Irish would focus on trying to contain USC's star wideout Robert Woods, Kiffin designed plays to get him going and allow Matt Barkley to get into a rhythm. The Irish defense was off-balance all night. The Trojans who had struggled so much late in games, dominated in the fourth quarter.

The USC defense, which has been so disappointing since the Kiffins (Monte Kiffin, Lane's father, is USC's defensive coordinator) took over, held the potent N.D. attack to 267 yards. More impressively, they bottled up Irish standout Michael Floyd who managed only 28 receiving yards on four catches.

Afterward, the Trojans had no trouble rubbing ND's face in it. "We wore them out," running back Marc Tyler told reporters. "They didn't want to play no more. We out-physicaled them and beat them down."

I'm not going to say that USC is ready to knock off Stanford this week, but they will be a much tougher test than Washington was especially now that this young team has a major confidence boost.

 The more you watch Tajh Boyd and Clemson, the more impressed you have to be. Boyd threw five more TDs Saturday and now has thrown 24 TDs against only three INTs. It is remarkable to think back only two months to when the AP preseason poll came out and the Tigers didn't get a single Top 25 vote. And now they are looking like a real threat to make it to the BCS title game. Things sure seem to be falling into place for Dabo Swinney. He has Ga. Tech next, and the wheels are coming off the Yellow Jackets' wagon the past two weeks. Then, there is the season finale at No. 14 South Carolina, but Steve Spurrier's team is smarting from the loss of workhorse RB Marcus Lattimore.

 Hats off to Houston QB Case Keenum who passed Hawaii's Timmy Chang to become the FBS career leader in total offense. Keenum torched Marshall, throwing more TDs (six) than incompletions (four). Keenum, though, wasn't the hottest QB in C-USA. ECU's Dominique Davis was. He connected on his first 26 passes against Navy, setting a single-game NCAA record and breaking the mark shared by Tee Martin and Aaron Rodgers. Dating back to his previous game, Davis completed 36 in a row, also breaking a Rodgers' record of 26.

 From the "Get This Dept.": Jarrett Lee, the QB who had become synonymous with the Pick-Six, has the lowest INT percentage (.65) of any QB in the top 40 in passing efficiency. Lee has thrown one pick in 155 attempts this year. Before this year, he'd thrown 18 INTs in 398 career attempts (4.52).

 As if there weren't enough barometers for just how dominant the Alabama D is ... Against the Tide in Week 2, Penn State's Silas Redd couldn't get anything going, getting 22 carries and gaining nothing more than 8 yards. Since then, though, Redd has emerged as one of the rising stars in the Big Ten. He ran for 164 yards as PSU, which had been averaging only 17 ppg in league play, scored 34 to beat Northwestern. Redd is averaging 142 rushing yards in the Nittany Lions' past four games.

The Nittany Lions, who have a good defense and now a respectable offense are actually the leaders in the Leaders Division, ahead of Wisconsin. But now PSU's conference schedule starts to get tough.

I didn't realize just how bad Northwestern has been this season till today. NU is 2-5, having lost five in a row. One of their two wins came against an FBS program. The other came against the ACC's worst team, B.C. You don't often see a team in the top 25 in turnover margin, this bad but the Wildcats have been a complete dud after an summer of Heisman campaigns and optimism.

 So much for the Year of the Zooker. From the best start in 60 years to back-to-back losses to unranked teams, Nate Scheelhasse's offense has sputtered -- averaging only 11 points the past two weeks. Now they have to go on the road to face Penn State.

 Stat of the Day: Quite a welcome for the two new Pac-12 members, Utah and Colorado who have been stinking up the place. The two are a combined 0-8 in league play and they lost by a combined 79-12 on Saturday.

 Stat of the Day, Take II: According to AP reporter Tim Reynolds, for the first time in five years. Ga. Tech didn't have a play of 20 yards or more. Not only that, Miami, which is really depleted at defensive tackle, limited the Tech run game to no carry longer than 11 yards on its 46 carries.

 Bad QB Statline of the Day: UVA QB David Watford: 4 of 16, 3 INTs vs. NC State, the No. 83 pass defense in the country.

 Interesting move by Derek Dooley to burn the redshirt of freshman QB Justin Worley. Dooley put him into the game with three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Vols trailing 37-6 on the road at 'Bama. Dooley wasn't concerned that he burned Worley's redshirt, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"I never worry about redshirts," Dooley said. "I don't care. These guys they don't worry about staying for four years. So why should we worry about redshirting? They come out in three.

"If they stop coming out in three, we'll start redshirting."

That's a pretty blunt quote, especially since you rarely see QBs come out in three years.

 A shout out to three very good off-the-radar coaching jobs going on this season:

For whatever attention C-USA will get, Houston is going to grab most of the spotlight, but Larry Fedora's got himself a nice team. Southern Miss drilled SMU, bottling up June Jones' offense for 330 yards and only 173 passing, which is about half of what SMU averaged through the air (332).

Even further off the radar ... Lost in all of the craziness with the the wild finish at Michigan State is the underrated job Ron English has done at Eastern Michigan. EMU just beat WMU to go to 5-3, giving them five wins for the first time in 16 seasons. English, who had been well-regarded as a great recruiter in his days as an assistant, has done wonders uplifting a program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1987.

And ...

About 36 hours after I gave some love to UL-Lafayette the Ragin Cajuns got thumped by Western Kentucky, 42-23 to snap WKU's 18-game home losing streak as Bobby Rainey ran wild, going for 206 yards. The Hilltoppers are 3-4 and getting significantly better under another former Jim Harbaugh assistant Willie Taggart.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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