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November 28, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 13 awards
What we learned in Week 13
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Never expect Arkansas to take a knee and run out the clock. Locked in a 14-14 tie with LSU, Arkansas had the ball on its 20 with just three seconds left in the first half. The typical move -- the safe move -- is to take a knee and go into halftime with a tie. That's probably what 119 coaches in the FBS would have done. But Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino wasn't going to play it safe. He called for a pass and Ryan Mallett hit Cobi Hamilton in the middle of the field. When two LSU players collided trying to make the tackle, Hamilton raced downfield for an 80-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead. It was the pivotal play in a 31-23 Arkansas victory.
Oklahoma's Landry Jones should be the All-Big 12 quarterback. That has been a topic of debate, with the Big 12 boasting a roster of quarterbacks that includes Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Baylor's Robert Griffin, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Texas Tech's Taylor Potts. Frankly, Weeden, who was leading the conference with 3,780 yards going into the weekend, was the leading candidate for all-conference recognition. But that was before Jones outdueled Weeden in a 47-41 victory that put the Sooners into the Big 12 championship game. Jones threw for 468 yards and four touchdowns, with two -- covering 86 and 76 yards -- coming in the final three minutes. If that doesn't nail down all-conference honors, what does?
Winning is the most important thing as a coach. In case anyone forgot that, Miami's firing of Randy Shannon proved that once again. Shannon was lauded for changing the culture at Miami and running a clean program, one in which Hurricanes players behave off the field and excel in the classroom. But those positives couldn't erase that Miami was 28-22 and had no ACC titles under Shannon, who had just received a four-year contract extension before the start of this season. Shannon, a Miami guy to the core, also was hurt by myriad empty seats in Sun Life Stadium.
The worst is only just beginning for USC. The Trojans are coming off two brutal losses, 36-7 at Oregon State and 20-16 at home to Notre Dame. USC (7-5) finishes the regular season at UCLA on Saturday. This was believed to be a top-three Pac-10 team, but USC is looking up at Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. What is USC going to look like when the ramifications of NCAA probation truly begin to kick in over the next few seasons? It's going to get worse -- much worse -- before it gets better for the Trojans, who are in for a long decade.
It was a great year to rebuild. While traditional powers such as Texas and Florida flopped, while USC is on probation and while Michigan, Miami and Notre Dame continue to tread water, this was a great season for under-the-radar rebuilding projects. If you weren't looking closely, you might have missed them. Under second-year coach Mike Haywood, Miami of Ohio went from 1-11 last season to 8-4 this season; the RedHawks will be in the MAC championship game Friday. At Florida International, coach Mario Cristobal and electrifying WR T.Y. Hilton have led the Panthers to a Sun Belt championship. Not long ago, FIU was an afterthought in its own league (1-23 in 2006-07). After a couple of near-misses early in the season against Rutgers and Texas A&M, FIU never folded. SMU returned to its first bowl game since the death penalty last season, and now is a win away from its first outright conference championship since 1982. The Big East is down this season, but Louisville's Charlie Strong and Syracuse's Doug Marrone have helped their programs end bowl droughts. And San Diego State, one of the nation's most underachieving programs, has overachieved by going 8-4.
There's something different about South Carolina. After South Carolina upset Alabama earlier this year, the Gamecocks promptly turned around and lost to Kentucky. After wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee, they were hammered by Arkansas. When South Carolina clinched the SEC East on Nov. 13, I wondered if there would be the same trouble handling success. Troy wasn't a great challenge, but the Gamecocks rolled 69-24. The real test would be Saturday against Clemson. Would the Gamecocks overlook their rival on their way to Atlanta? The answer was "no way." Clemson scored on its first possession, but South Carolina pounded the Tigers the rest of the way and won 29-7. This occurred on a day when Marcus Lattimore was not at his best. Auburn may be a heavy favorite in the SEC title game, but South Carolina isn't content just to be there.
There's no excuse for Florida and Texas. Both programs -- among the four or five best in the nation the past five seasons -- were embarrassingly bad this season. Texas' meltdown -- from playing for the national title last season to missing out entirely on a bowl this season -- is epic. At least Florida is going to a bowl. But coaches Mack Brown at Texas and Urban Meyer at Florida have to make some tough offseason decisions -- decisions that should include new offensive coordinators. Texas' Greg Davis has overseen some powerful offenses, but those were the ones with Vince Young and Colt McCoy. When Davis hasn't had superstar quarterbacks, his offenses have lacked consistency. Florida's regular season is over, but Steve Addazio still hasn't decided the Gators' offensive identity this season. It's obviously about 10 games too late.
Give it up for UConn coach Randy Edsall. Connecticut came into this season with about as much hype as there can be for the Huskies' football team. UConn was expected to contend for the Big East title with a veteran team. But when the Huskies got off to a 3-4 start in a league that is way below -- way, way below -- par, they were written off as being vastly overrated. After the season's nadir, a 27-0 loss to Louisville in which the Huskies gained just 175 total yards, UConn turned it around. The Huskies now have won four in a row, including wins over West Virginia and Pitt by a combined five points, and they're in the driver's seat in the Big East. A win next week at USF and UConn is in the BCS. Granted, the Huskies don't deserve a BCS bid, but don't blame them for being the best team in a bad league. And you have to credit Edsall for getting his team to bounce back after bottoming out.
No rivalry matches BYU-Utah for late drama. It shouldn't have come as any surprise that Utah's 17-16 victory over BYU was decided on a blocked field goal as time expired. When these teams play, it always seems to go down to the wire. Only two of the past 14 BYU-Utah games have been decided by more than seven points. BYU won in overtime last season. The Cougars won on a last-minute touchdown in 2007 after converting a fourth-and-18 play, and they won in 2006 with a touchdown on the game's final play. Utah's 48-24 victory in 2008 was the only recent one-sided game in this rivalry. Now that Utah and BYU no longer will be conference rivals, we can only hope they continue producing these types of thrillers.
Notre Dame has put together a solid defense. The deficiencies in Notre Dame's defense cost Charlie Weis his job last season. The Irish didn't look any better on that side of the ball this season after giving up 367 rushing yards in a 35-17 loss to Navy. But they've played remarkably well from that point on. Notre Dame's defense has allowed just two touchdowns in the past four games, including a 20-16 victory Saturday over USC. Notre Dame went 13 consecutive quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown -- its longest streak since 1980 -- before USC finally reached the end zone in the third period. And that touchdown was hardly the defense's fault: USC recovered a fumble at Notre Dame's 2 line and didn't reach the end zone until a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal.
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