Tag:Rex Burkhead
Posted on: November 12, 2011 4:15 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Nebraska 17, Penn State 14

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NEBRASKA WON. In a game marked more for everything that's happened off the field than on it, No. 19 Nebraska won a 17-14 game at No. 12 Penn State. Rex Burkhead registered 126 yards on 27 carries, including Nebraska's last touchdown of the game to make it 17-0, a deficit too large for PSU to overcome. 

WHY NEBRASKA WON: Above all else, Nebraska won because it started putting things together faster than Penn State did. The score was close, the stats were close (if not identical) in every significant category, and the talent on the field was close to begin with. But Nebraska's the team that went up first, and went up big; at the end of the day, interim head coach Tom Bradley couldn't lead his charges all the way back.

WHEN NEBRASKA WON: When Penn State's last desperation play of the game fizzled, as Matt McGloin's pass was about 40 yards shy of the end zone -- and incomplete anyway. Penn State had held on 4th and 1 at its 29 with 44 seconds left, but the Nittany Lions' hurry-up offense was dreadful on the final try.

WHAT NEBRASKA WON: Not only did the Huskers stay alive in the Legends Division race, they registered their biggest road win of the season. Michigan State didn't cooperate, beating Iowa to stay atop the division, but if the Spartans somehow slip up and Nebraska doesn't, the Huskers will be going to Indianapolis in December. Speaking more to the game itself, Taylor Martinez looked downright competent at times, completing multiple 3rd and long throws for first downs. That's an accomplishment for the young man, who as a passer has often been Nebraska's biggest weakness.

WHAT PENN STATE LOST: With this loss, there are no more Big Ten teams undefeated in conference play; Penn State falls to 8-2 (5-1) on the season. Moreover, the vulnerabilities that have plagued PSU all season long -- dodgy QB play, offensive line struggles, and a rush defense that isn't quite as good as the front seven's talent level would indicate -- were all on display again today, and when that happens in a loss, it's a lot harder to ignore those problems. 

THAT WAS AMAZING: In a scene that college football could use a lot more of, before the game, the Penn State and Nebraska players greeted each other at midfield to shake hands. After that, the 100,000-strong crowd fell silent as the two teams -- joined by coaches, former players, and everybody else on the sidelines -- joined in prayer. For a game so wrought by scandal and horror, this was the perfect way to demonstrate that everyone's hearts and minds were in the right place.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:49 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Penn State vs. Nebraska

Posted by Tom Fornelli

PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: This is a very hard one to figure out. With everything going on in State College right now, we can't even be sure who will or won't be coaching Penn State this weekend, or how the players will deal with the distractions. Still, you have to think that for the players on this team, this game is something they'll be looking forward to if for nothing more than just to escape the storm in State College for a few hours. In order for Penn State to win it'll need to use the same formula it's been using all season: defense, defense and then maybe some offense. It's going to be incredibly important for the Penn State defense to keep Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez contained and force Martinez to beat them with his arm. On offense, Silas Redd will have to carry the load for a Penn State offense that's been quite anemic this season. Still, Redd is averaging over 5 yards a carry and has 7 touchdowns this season. The Nittany Lions will need him to find room against a Nebraska defense that hasn't been great stopping the run this season and has allowed 14 rushing touchdowns.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: Nebraska is going to have to find a way to put some points on the board against a defense that has allowed only 12.4 points per game this season in Big Ten play. There really isn't an area of this Penn State defense to attack as it's ranked first in the Big Ten in defensive pass efficiency and third in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing only 111.9 yards a game and 3.1 yards per carry. That being said, running the ball is what Nebraska does well, so running the ball is what the Cornhuskers will have to do in this contest. That means there will be no more important battle in this game on Saturday than Nebraska's offensive line versus Penn State's defensive line. Whichever team wins that matchup is going to win this game.

X-FACTOR: Matt McGloin. No offense to Rob Bolden, but Matt McGloin is clearly the best quarterback Penn State has right now, and I don't know why the Nittany Lions insist in giving Bolden snaps every week. I feel that if McGloin would be allowed to take all the snaps on offense than the Nittany Lions may find themselves developing some kind of consistency. Nebraska's pass defense has been strong in conference play, but if McGloin can make a few plays with his arm and use Derek Moye to stretch the field, it could be the difference in this game. 
Posted on: November 6, 2011 4:15 am
Edited on: November 6, 2011 12:04 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 10



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

B1G B1G B1G WINNER: Chaos

How much wilder is the Big Ten after this 10th week of play than before? Consider, now, that four of the six Legends Division teams are still in plausible contention for that crown, or that Penn State could still find itself at 6-2 (or worse) in the conference, setting off a similar scramble in the Leaders Division. This year, Minnesota has beaten Iowa, Purdue has beaten Illinois, and now Northwestern has beaten Nebraska in Lincoln. Did you see that one coming? Yes? Liar.

Sure, some might note that the ACC already tried having everybody in the conference go 6-2 or worse, and the result is a shambolic title race -- and a sham BCS bowl participant. And yes, generally, it's better to have a conference champion in the BCS' Top 12, where they'd be eligible to participate in a BCS bowl even without the conference title, but still: a little madness never hurt anybody, and what better way to demonstrate to the Big Ten faithful how much drama a division race can add to a season?

LOSER: Penn State

This was supposed to be a peaceful week off for Joe Paterno and Penn State, who would be watching gleefully as losses by Nebraska and Michigan would leave PSU as the only one-loss team in the conference. Instead, nobody in State College is talking football today; instead, it's the litany of serious crimes facing Jerry Sandusky -- and what role PSU brass may have played in keeping Sandusky's alleged crimes under wraps.

We're not going to comment on Sandusky's charges; we trust our readers to form their own opinions at this point. We'll just say that it's beyond depressing that Penn State is 8-1 (5-0), Joe Paterno is the Division I's winningest coach of all time, and the Penn State president still needs to be issuing statements assuring people that his athletic director and treasurer didn't try to cover up a serial child molester in violation of Pennsylvania state law. But alas: here it is, and here we are. Ugh; back to football.

WINNER: Michigan State's division title hopes

On its face, Michigan State's performance today was, if anything, lackluster; the Spartans let lowly Minnesota take a lead into the fourth quarter in a game in East Lansing, and MSU only won by 7 points after letting Minnesota drive into Spartan territory in the game's final seconds. And yet, Michigan State still won, and that gives the Spartans sole possession of first place in the Legends Division after Michigan and Nebraska both dropped contests Saturday. Unlike every other contender in the conference, MSU has no games against ranked opponents left; there are, however, road tests at Iowa and Northwestern looming, so it's not exactly time to start booking hotel rooms in Pasadena quite yet. Still, this is as commanding a position as anybody's held in this division thus far. 

LOSER: Michigan's division title hopes

It's getting to be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Michigan plays for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis this December. The Wolverines dropped to 3-2 in the league, and while that's still just a game off the lead with three games yet to play, it's to whom Michigan has lost that should prove most problematic for the Wolverines. Iowa and Michigan State both hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Michigan and a non-division loss, so really, the only way Michigan takes this division is by winning it outright. There is a plausible path to that: MSU loses to Iowa and Northwestern, Iowa loses to Nebraska, and Nebraska loses to Michigan. But that's about it.

WINNER: Iowa's offensive stars

Iowa's numbers on offense weren't spectacular in the Hawkeyes' 24-16 win over Michigan; 302 total yards and 15 first downs were all the Hawkeyes managed in 56 offensive plays. Not bad, no, but not spectacular. Nonetheless, there were some very familiar faces responsible for the lion's share of that production -- Marcus Coker had 132 yards and two scores, James Vandenberg was 14-21 for 171 yards and a score, and Marvin McNutt (seen at right, divorcing J.T. Floyd from his helmet) caught nine passes, a career high, for 101 yards. Overall, that's a pattern that has put several Hawkeyes among the league leaders with three games left in the regular season.

Coker leads all Big Ten rushers with 1101 yards on the season; Montee Ball is a close second with 1076. In receiving, McNutt trails only A.J. Jenkins (1030 yards) with 959 yards, and his nine receiving touchdowns lead the league. Meanwhile, Vandenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, with a 154.83 rating and 18 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Officially, Vandenberg is second only to I-A leader Russell Wilson in the NCAA's eyes, as Dan Persa hasn't played in 75% of Northwestern's games yet, but that doesn't seem totally fair to Persa, who meets the other qualification of 15 pass attempts per game even counting the games he missed. We see you, Dan.

LOSER: Any notion of Rex Burkhead as a Heisman candidate

For a little while, Rex Burkhead was starting to gain steam as a potential darkhorse candidate -- not a potential winner, but certainly someone that might at least score a free trip to New York in December. Nebraska would have to win out as a one-loss Big Ten champion, though, and Burkhead would have to keep coming up as big as he has all season long. Do all that, and it might be good enough to get some major national attention.

Well, that clearly didn't happen. Nebraska's rushing attack was bottled up by Northwestern, of all defenses; the Wildcats had been ranked 95th nationwide coming into Saturday's contest, ceding 194 rushing yards per game. And yet, Nebraska managed only 122 yards on the ground in the 28-25 loss, and Burkhead was particularly ineffective: 22 rushes, 69 yards, one score, and one costly fumble inside Northwestern's 5-yard line. Worse, only three of those 22 rushes gained first downs, while Burkhead converted for a score or first down on only two of six rushes on 3rd and 4th down. That? That's not good.

WINNER: Kain Colter

Say this about Pat Fitzgerald: he doesn't much care for traditional labels on players. How else to explain Kain Colter, who for the last four weeks has averaged 55 yards rushing, 55 yards passing, and 71 yards receiving per game in a QB/WR hybrid role in support of Dan Persa? This week, Colter's versatility was especially useful, as Persa would leave the game at the half after sustaining a shoulder injury; Colter responded by scoring three touchdowns in the second half of Northwestern's upset victory.

Colter and Persa had seen their roles increasingly specialized coming into this week's action, with Persa taking the lion's share of the passing duties and Colter rushing far more often. Indeed, even though he only played a half, Persa threw 14 passes in this week's game; Colter, meanwhile, threw six. So there still isn't a ton of trust from Pat Fitzgerald in Colter's throwing ability yet. At the same time, this platoon seems awfully similar to 2009, when Persa was primarily a rushing threat in relief of Mike Kafka. That clearly didn't hamper Persa's prospects as a thrower down the road, and the current setup shouldn't be construed as a permanent indictment of Colter's passing ability.

LOSER: Denard Robinson's legs 

Last year, in the Gator Bowl blowout that would seal Rich Rodriguez's fate with Michigan, the Wolverines tried to go for it on five fourth downs. In each one, a pass play was called for Denard Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to convert, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt. This week, Robinson had led Michigan to Iowa's 3-yard line with under 20 seconds to play and a first and goal. This time around, Brady Hoke called four straight passes for Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to score, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt.

This is not to argue that Robinson should never pass or anything of that sort. It's just that Robinson is at his most dangerous on the move, and when a drive or a game's on the line, by and large, it's not smart to have him stand still and look to pass. Junior Hemingway came awfully close to making a great catch on 2nd down and Roy Roundtree may have had a legitimate gripe for pass interference on 4th down (though it was far less obvious in real time), but still: Denard Robinson is the most dynamic runner in the Big Ten; why not try a run-pass option? With deep apologies to ZZ Top, Robinson has legs, and he knows how to use them. Give him a chance to do that!

Posted on: November 3, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2011 4:50 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 10



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

As defined by Webster's, hubris means "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." Unfortunately, I didn't need to look that up because I'm already quite familiar with hubris, as is Woman. For you see, as human beings, we are prone to suffering from feelings and getting a bit too full of ourselves. Because of this hubris that both Woman and I experienced, we seem to have forgotten there was a third member of this competition.

The thoughtless, emotionless machine. Now, after a mediocre week from both Man and Woman, the Machine has made its move. The two-horse race now has a third member, and things should get interesting down the home stretch.

Colorado vs. USC (-22 1/2) - Friday, 9pm (All times Eastern)

Man - It's been hard to watch USC the last two weeks and not be very impressed with what the Trojans have been doing. Compare that to how Colorado has played all season, and I don't really care if it's at home and is getting over 3 touchdowns, I'm not relying on it. Pick: USC

Woman - "Hey, Tom, have you noticed while we're fighting each other, the zombie Machine is catching up fast? All I can say is, I'm Shane, you're Otis. As for the Pac-12 Loser Bowl, let's review the numbers. Colorado lost to Stanford 48-7.  Stanford needed triple OT to best USC. And the line starts to look smaller..." Pick: USC 

Machine - Does not really appreciate being called a zombie, but it agrees with Woman anyway. USC wins 42-13. Pick: USC

West Virginia (-14 1/2) vs. Louisville - Saturday, 12pm

Man - When it comes to the Big East your first option should always be to lean toward chaos, but from what I've seen from Louisville this season, I just don't see the Cardinals being able to hang with the Mountaineers. Which means Louisville will probably win 9-7, but I'm picking West Virginia anyway. Pick: West Virginia

Woman - "West Virginia should have this won but Louisville is coming off a two-week high, beating both Rutgers and Syracuse. With both teams tied at 2-1 in the Big East standings, I'm guessing the game will be closer than the spread. (And by the way, kind of sad that Cardinals cheerleaders don't feel safe enough to cheer at Mountaineer Field.)" Pick: Louisville

Machine - Geno Smith is going to have a day to remember, as he throws for over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns as West Virginia rolls 49-21. Pick: West Virginia

Iowa vs. Michigan (-4 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Normally in a Big Ten game played in Kinnick Stadium if I saw Iowa was getting points I wouldn't have to think that much before going with the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately this year's Iowa team is not something I want to depend on for anything, and Michigan has a lot left to play for, so I'm rolling with the Wolverines. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "Big Blue's one slip this season was on the road.  But with a stout defense, Denard Robinson at the helm, and an opponent that's underperformed all season, I'm thinking Kinnick Stadium won't pose much of a threat to the Wolverines." Pick: Michigan

Machine - The Machine must not have seen Iowa play against Minnesota last week, because it doesn't see the Hawkeyes having a whole lot of trouble with the Wolverines. Iowa wins 28-17. Pick: Iowa

Nebraska (-17 1/2) vs. Northwestern - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Nebraska is a team that worries me every week, but after seeing what it was able to do with Michigan State in Lincoln last week, I'm going to put that fear aside and trust that Rex Burkhead will run all over the Northwestern defense. Pick: Nebraska

Woman - "It's a shame Northwestern QB Dan Persa can't play defense.  And it's really a shame the Northwestern defense can't play defense. Not gonna be pretty (especially at crazed Memorial Stadium)." Pick: Nebraska

Machine - The Machine sees the Nebraska offense taking full advantage of the Northwestern defense, but it also sees Dan Persa and company having some success as well. Nebraska wins 38-30. Pick: Northwestern

Oklahoma (-13 1/2) vs. Texas A&M - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - When it comes to picking games against the spread I try to subscribe to the idea of never picking the underdog unless you think the underdog has a legit chance of winning the game. I don't think Texas A&M is going to go into Norman and hand the Sooners a second straight home loss, but I also think that the Aggies will cover what's nearly a 2 touchdown spread. So screw my rules. Pick: Texas A&M

Woman - "The Aggies have been my Kryptonite, letting me down every time I've picked them. That said, they haven't lost a game this season by more than seven points and have won all their away games. So, once more into the breach. Sooners win but Aggies cover." Pick: Texas A&M

Machine - Our worst fears are being realized. The Machine is adapting to reality, as it sees Texas A&M carry a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter only to lose 31-24. Pick: Texas A&M

Pitt vs. Cincinnati (-2 1/2) - Saturday, 7pm

Man - I feel like I'm punishing myself for even including this game in the picks. I mean, seriously, it's the Big East. I have no idea what's going to happen, so let's let this nickel decide. Pick: Pitt

Woman - "Some of the most excruciating college ball I've watched this season has been at the butterfingery hands of Pitt. Losing leading rusher Ray Graham for the season with a torn ACL does nothing to make the Panthers more appealing against the Big East leader." Pick: Cincinnati

Machine - The loss of Ray Graham will not be a huge blow to the Panthers this week, as they squeeze out a win against the Bearcats, throwing the Big East into total disarray. Pitt wins 28-27. Pick: Pitt

Arkansas (-4 1/2) vs. South Carolina - Saturday, 7:15pm

Man - A South Carolina offense that was already struggling before losing Marcus Lattimore for the season and has seemingly forgotten it has Alshon Jeffery on the road against an Arkansas offense averaging 37 points a game but also has a defense that's struggled to stop Ole Miss and Vanderbilt the last few weeks. So I'm just going to go with the home team. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "The Gamecocks 7-1 record is pretty misleading. They've scored a total of no more than 16 points three out of the last four games and, after dumping QB Stephen Garcia, now must deal with star RB Marcus Lattimore out for the season with a knee injury.  Meanwhile, Arkansas has averaged 37 points a game. Let's see, 37 minus 16 = " Pick: Arkansas

Machine - We got ourselves a clean sweep here, as Arkansas wins 31-14. Pick: Arkansas

Alabama (-4 1/2) vs. LSU - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Ah yes, the Game of The Century For This Year. Much like most of you, I've been looking forward to this one for weeks. A part of me didn't even want to pick this one just so I'd have no reason to care what the final score was and I could just enjoy it, but I also don't want to give a game away to the Woman or the Machine. I don't know who is going to win this game, but I do know that there are two incredibly good defenses facing each other. So points will be at a premium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, and since that's the case, I'm going to take the free points and LSU. Pick: LSU

Woman - "I made the horrible mistake of picking against the Tigers once this season.  That's once too many.  Calling Baton Rouge [Les Miles]." Pick: LSU

Machine - Shocking, I know, but The Machine has always been more of a Nick Saban fan than a Les Miles one. Alabama wins 28-20. Pick: Alabama

Oklahoma State (-21 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Remember what we saw the Oklahoma offense do to Kansas State last week? I don't think that was a mirage, and now the Wildcats are facing an even more explosive offense and on the road. I let my heart pick the Wildcats last week, but this week I'm listening to my head. Let's hope I'm not as stupid as I think I am. Pick: Oklahoma State

Woman - "The Wildcats have the unenviable task of coming off an embarrassing loss only to face the number three-ranked team in the country. The bad news for KSU: they're going to lose two games in a row. The good news: it won't be by more than three touchdowns." Pick: Kansas State

Machine - Well, Kansas State, you'll always have September and the first three weeks of October. The Machine sees Brandon Weeden picking up where Landry Jones left off, and the Cowboys win 51-20. Pick: Oklahoma State

Washington vs. Oregon (-15 1/2) - Saturday, 10:30pm

Man - Washington is averaging 39 points a game at home this season while Oregon is giving up over 25 points per game to Pac-12 opponents not named Colorado on the year. So if they want to give me more than 2 touchdowns with Washington at home, I'm going to take Washington. Pick: Washington

Woman - "It's the very last game ever at storied Husky Stadium and this is an intense rivalry folks east of the Rockies don't appreciate. The Huskies might lose but will not go gentle into that good night." Pick: Washington

Machine - The Machine thinks you should stay up late to watch this one, because it's going to be a shootout. Oregon wins 48-42. Pick: Washington

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Man 55-40 (4-6)
1. Woman 55-40 (5-5)
3. Machine 52-43 (8-2)

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Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:10 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 2:13 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Northwestern at Nebraska

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NORTHWESTERN WILL WIN IF: The Wildcat defense shuts down Rex Burkhead. Seriously, if Rex Burkhead can't rush for more than 2-3 yards a pop, Nebraska's probably in trouble, because Burkhead is the unquestioned workhorse of this vaunted rushing attack; he's averaging over 25 carries per game in Big Ten play, and logged 35 rushes last week and three total TDs in the Huskers' 24-3 win over Michigan State. The one small, tiny, insignificant detail: keeping Burkhead bottled up for four quarters is basically impossible, even for a good defense. Northwestern's defense? Not so good. The Wildcats give up about 200 yards per game on the ground alone, and 31.5 points per game. That's going to have to change this week, or Burkhead and Nebraska are going to run up the score.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: They don't make Dan Persa look like Superman. One thing that's become evident over the course of the season is that Dan Persa is not at his 2010, pre-injury level of play. That's to be somewhat expected, considering it's an Achilles injury we're talking about here, but it's to the point that Pat Fitzgerald isn't even using Persa's rushing ability anymore; that role falls to Kain Colter, who's certainly dangerous as a rusher (and receiver, when need be) in his own right -- but Colter's so harmless as a passer that one look at who's under center is usually all it takes to figure out whether Northwestern's going run or pass. Now, Persa's still a talented thrower, and he's got a stable of capable receivers, so if Northwestern's going to keep this game at all close, it'll be by passing the ball -- if Nebraska keeps Persa's passing numbers out of the stratosphere, this should be a relatively easy Husker win.

X-FACTOR: Bad Taylor Martinez. At his best, Taylor Martinez is a dual threat with the ability to make big plays with his arm or his feet, and defenses usually have to account for both possibilities. Of course, Taylor Martinez is rarely at his best, and he's usually good for one or two horrifying interceptions per game. He certainly has the ability to keep Northwestern in this game when the Wildcats shouldn't be; at the same time, if he takes care of the football, this one'll probably be over by the time the fourth quarter starts.

Posted on: October 31, 2011 7:47 pm
 

Big Ten poll reactions, Week 9

Posted by Adam Jacobi

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big Ten fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.


(AP/Coaches)

9/9. Nebraska

I've wanted to see this Nebraska from the start, and here it is. The defense played up to the hype for the first time all year, Rex Burkhead was an absolute ox, and Taylor Martinez only threw one unforgivable pass. Bo Pelini may have even smiled.

So with the Huskers at 7-1 and finally possessing a big-time win, yes, No. 9 is fair. It'd be great to see a road win, and what do you know: Nebraska travels to Happy Valley then the Big House after this week's home tilt with a plucky Northwestern team.

13/13. Michigan

It is a fact that Michigan still hasn't beaten anybody of note outside of that miracle comeback against Notre Dame. It's also a fact that Michigan's offense hasn't been tested by a decent defense since MSU dismantled it a couple weeks ago (no offense, Purdue). And yet still, this is a 7-1 team that'll probably be able to coast its way to double digit wins, and even in a down Big Ten, that's probably worth a Top 15 spot; it's not as if the other conferences are much better once you get out of the Top 10 anyway.

16/15. Penn State
15/16. Michigan State

These two teams are functionally tied, and they've got the stingiest scoring defenses in the Big Ten, so they get to share a blurb here. Penn State seems like the worst one-loss team in a BCS conference, but so far, Alabama (you know, the team that's about to beat LSU) is been the only team that proved it could beat the Nittany Lions. Michigan State, meanwhile, is still 6-2 and in pretty good shape in the Legends Division race, but hidden in the Spartans' 17-4 record since the start of last season is the fact that all four of those losses have been by at least 18 points and away from Spartan Stadium -- not the stuff of champions, that. Still, MSU doesn't face any more ranked opponents for the rest of the season, so as long as the Spartans don't lay another egg at Kinnick Stadium this year look for them to have a strong chance to make it to Indianapolis -- probably to face Penn State, who holds a 2.5 game lead in its division.

19/17. Wisconsin

Oh, Wisconsin. Don't let them see you like this. Don't let them see you in hysterics after those two ridiculous Hail Marys submarined your hopes and dreams of an undefeated season. You deserve better than 19th in the nation; you really do. In fact, strictly from a "power poll" perspective, you still probably deserve to be as high as, say, Michigan -- even though that defense is just lousy. The Badgers can't ride a blowout over Nebraska at Camp Randall for the whole year, though, and it's time for this team to get back on track immediately.

Also receiving votes: Ohio State (37 AP votes, 21 coaches votes) 
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 9



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.

Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.

Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.

2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.

Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.

Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.

The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.

USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.

Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.

The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.

Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.

Stat of the week

Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.

Stats of the week

- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.

- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.

- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.

- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.

- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.

- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.

- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.

- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.

Yard-by-yard

- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.

- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.

- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.

- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.

- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).

- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.

- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.

- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.

- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.

- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.

- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.

- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.

- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.

- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.

- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.

Tweet of the week

"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."

- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.

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Related links
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Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Arkansas

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.

Leaning this way

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.

South Carolina at Arkansas

On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.

LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)

The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 3:35 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 9



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Beavis and Burkhead - It's impossible to discuss either Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead without mentioning the effect they've had on each other and Nebraska's success. They're like a buddy comedy, bringing out the best in each other while highlighting their differences; Martinez is often erratic through the air but almost always hits Burkhead in stride, while the slower Burkhead can be an effective decoy on options to spring Martinez for big gains on keepers. They work in tandem, and it would be jarring to see either of them try to replicate their success this year alone.

This week, Nebraska managed just 270 yards against Michigan State, but 233 of those yards (and all three touchdowns) came from either Martinez or Burkhead. Against the statistically best defense in the Big Ten, that's no small task. If the Huskers intend to continue toward the Big Ten Championship, it will be on the backs of their maddening quarterback and devastating tailback, ever inseparable.

LOSER: Michigan State's rushing game, again - Coming into Saturday's action, Michigan State was ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing yardage per game. Now, afterwards, nothing has changed. Facing a middling Nebraska defense that continues to miss All-American DT Jared Crick, the Spartans as a team managed only 101 yards on 30 carries. The passing game was even worse (11-27, 86 yards), but still: this was supposed to be a rushing attack that could take over games -- or at the very least reliably keep the chains moving. Instead, thanks to some lackluster blocking, these guys aren't even able to solve a defense with seven men in the box. If this serial failure to rush the ball effectively continues, MSU's not going to hold onto its claim for the division title.

WINNER: Braxton Miller - Yes, Ohio State is running the ball almost exclusively. But that offensive approach isn't possible if Joe Bauserman is the starter, because a diet of nothing but rushes is easy for a defense to figure out if there's only one potential ball-carrier in the backfield. That's not the case with Braxton Miller running the show, though; if Miller drops back in the pocket, he's got the opportunity to look for rushing lanes as well as open receivers. That's extremely stressful for defenders who have to decide whether to stay in coverage or crash the line once Miller takes off. That's what got Devin Smith so wide open for the game-winning score on Saturday, and it's exactly how other mobile quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson find guys free in the secondary so often. 

LOSER: The Big Ten bandwagon - Anyone still feel like Wisconsin is a Rose Bowl-quality team? Anyone? With Wisconsin on a two-game slide and the defense looking like a liability (which it always was, it just didn't matter when the Badgers were scoring at will), the Big Ten now looks like it has zero elite teams, not one. Whoever goes to the Rose Bowl -- probably Michigan State, Michigan, or Penn State -- is due for a shellacking at the hands of whoever the Pac-12 puts forth (Stanford and Oregon being the key contenders here).  

WINNER: Whoever's starting at quarterback against Iowa - Consider the list of Indiana's Tre Roberson, Iowa State's Steele Jantz, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, Northwestern's Dan Persa, and Penn State's Matt McGloin. What do they all have in common? They've all spent extensive time this season not being their team's starting quarterback, usually splitting time if not outright benched for poor play. They've all also lit the Iowa defense up, combining for a 149.95 passer rating and a 69.3% completion rate, numbers far higher than each QB's season rates. These are quarterbacks that a good defense feasts on; instead, Iowa lets them run wild.

The news gets worse for the Hawkeyes, as Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson are both looming in the upcoming schedule. If Iowa can make the since-benched Steele Jantz look like a one-week Heisman candidate, imagine the devastation Robinson will rain down upon the Hawkeye defense.

LOSER: The 3:30 slate of games and anyone unlucky enough to witness them - In the strongest evidence yet that close games are not automatically good games, Illinois-Penn State and Iowa-Minnesota were decided by a grand total of four points, featured lead changes in the last three minutes, and were enough to set college football back decades. Illinois-PSU was scoreless through the first 41 minutes of play, and featured as many punts as points (17) -- a stat made even more horrifying when combined with the seven turnovers the game also featured.

Meanwhile, in Iowa's 22-21 loss, the Hawkeyes drove into Minnesota territory on their first four possessions and got a grand total of zero points on those drives; they would add a lost fumble inside Minnesota's 30 in the third quarter. Minnesota, meanwhile, was incinerated by Marcus Coker on the ground, giving up over 250 yards and eight yards a pop to the Iowa sophomore -- and Minnesota won. It was just a bad, shoddily-executed game all around, and nobody needs to see that unless they've got a vested rooting interest. 

WINNER: Quietly, Michigan's title hopes - During the Michigan State-Nebraska game, ESPN erroneously showed a graphic of Iowa at 6-1 (2-1) on the year, presupposing that the Hawkeyes' 44-41 loss to Iowa State didn't happen. This gaffe went unnoticed in the booth, as Urban Meyer twice made mention of Iowa being a "quiet 6-1" and a challenger for the Legends Division crown.

We bring that up not to nitpick ESPN, but to point out that if even Iowa was getting division title mention as of Saturday morning (NOTE: all that talk is obviously done now), then Michigan's gone straight past "darkhorse" and into "invisihorse" territory, even though the Wolverines are still a one-loss team. Yes, MSU still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, but if all it takes is another loss out of the team that just got worked by Nebraska for Michigan to be in the driver's seat here, that's not exactly asking much.

LOSER: For once, not Ron Zook - No, we're clearly not declaring Ron Zook a winner this week, not when his players just dropped their third straight game and are on the brink of pure freefall after a 6-0 start. No no, he is no winner. But at the very least, this week, Illinois did not look outcoached -- just outplayed. Gone were the howlers of game management and terrible playcalls, although that's scant consolation when the alternative is four turnovers and two missed field goals. At the very least, though, those are execution problems (it's not as if Zook called "the fumble play"), and even with those problems Illinois wins this game if it weren't for PSU's 80-yard touchdown drive on its last possession of the game. So chins up, Illinois fans: your coach didn't blow this one.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com