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November 20, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
USC has a top-10 team. With USC ineligible for postseason play, the Trojans seem to be forgotten. But they offered a not-so-subtle reminder that they're one of the country's top teams with a 38-35 upset at Oregon. The Trojans' only loss since September was a triple-overtime defeat at the hands of Stanford in which a controversial penalty against S T.J. McDonald was pivotal. They're 9-2 overall and 6-1 since September, and without question, they're the best team in the Pac-12 South. While they're ineligible for the coaches' poll and BCS standings, the Trojans were ranked just 18th in the AP poll last week. They should be in the top 10.
[Dr. Saturday: USC brings the BCS ambush to Oregon]
Baylor QB Robert Griffin III is again among the Heisman leaders. In fact, after leading the Bears to a stunning 45-38 victory over Oklahoma, a strong case could be made that he should be the No. 1 candidate. The trophy goes to the most outstanding player and, frankly, nobody has been more outstanding than Griffin. His 479 passing yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma marked the eighth time this season he has thrown for more than 300 yards and the fourth time he has thrown for more than 400. It was also the eighth time he has thrown at least three touchdown passes. And his winning 34-yard touchdown pass was a signature Heisman play if there ever was one.
Managing timeouts must be tougher than it appears. Separated by about 2,000 miles and two time zones, two of the game's top coaches had the same problem - managing timeouts late in the fourth quarter. Simply put, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops called the timeout Oregon's Chip Kelly should have called. The timeout snafus may end up sealing an all-SEC national championship game. In Eugene, Oregon took over with 2:54 left after a USC fumble. The Ducks went to their up-tempo offense against USC's tired defense. It worked until Oregon reached USC territory. Kelly gambled his up-tempo offense could continue to shred the USC defense, so he opted against any timeouts. The end result was a missed 37-yard field goal in a three-point loss. A few minutes later in real time, after Oklahoma had tied the score at 38, Baylor took over with 51 seconds left. Stoops called a timeout after a first-down run by Baylor, but that move backfired by emboldening Baylor to play for the win. Robert Griffin III responded with a 22-yard run on second down, and that provided the impetus for more Griffin heroics in a 45-38 win. Other factors contributed to these upsets, but the symmetry of the timeout situation couldn't be more glaring.
[Slideshow: Saturday's college football highlights]
The Big East race is just as messy as the BCS. If one conference race looks just like the BCS standings, it belongs to the Big East. The individual teams aren't to the level of LSU and Alabama, but the confusion at the top of the standings is just as apparent. Cincinnati failed to hold onto the league lead with backup QB Munchie Legaux and the defense struggling in a 20-3 loss to Rutgers. That leaves Louisville and Rutgers leading the conference at 4-2, and Cincinnati, West Virginia and Pittsburgh are 3-2, leaving a five-way tie in the loss column. More than that, every team in the Big East can become bowl-eligible. You can argue whether the Big East deserves a BCS spot, but you can't argue it will be a wild race in the next two weeks.
High-powered offenses aren't enough. At some point, if you want to play for a national title, you do actually have to play defense. I'm not saying your defense must be to the level of Alabama's or LSU's. But Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Stanford, Oregon, Clemson, Houston, Arkansas, Boise State - each has lost (or, in Houston's case, eventually will lose) when it gave up at least 30 points. No 24-21 or 28-24 losses - the winning team scored at least 30 every time. At some point, you cannot simply outscore everybody you play.
Mack Brown should be feeling some heat. Last season was a 5-7 debacle for Brown, who changed both coordinators in the offseason - bringing in Bryan Harsin from Boise State to run the offense and Manny Diaz from Mississippi State to oversee the defense. But all the coaching in the world can't disguise that Texas' talent level isn't where it needs to be. That's shocking - and damning. Yes, the Longhorns had a tremendous run of success under Brown, including winning the 2005 national title. But this season's team is 6-4 after Saturday's loss to Kansas State and could finish 6-6, and Texas going 11-13 (or 12-12 or 13-11) in a two-year stretch is a head-shaker.
This hasn't been a great year for kickers in clutch situations. We all know how missed field goals cost Alabama the game in its 9-6 overtime loss to LSU. Boise State's title hopes disintegrated last week when Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired. This tough-luck season for kickers continued this week. Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp missed a potential go-ahead 37-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' 37-31 double-overtime loss to Iowa State. Oregon lost 38-35 to USC when Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard attempt on the game's final play. Florida State's Dustin Hopkins, one of the best kickers in the country, couldn't connect on a 42-yarder with three seconds left in the Seminoles' 14-13 loss to Virginia. All these missed field goals across the country made Utah K Coleman Petersen's achievement all the more remarkable. Utah was playing on a snow-covered field at Washington State on Saturday, but Petersen still somehow made a 38-yard field goal in overtime to give the Utes a 30-27 victory.
Houston also can play defense. Let's get one thing straight: Houston is undefeated and aiming toward a BCS bid mainly because it boasts the nation's highest-scoring offense. The Cougars will go as far as record-setting QB Case Keenum takes them. But the defense also is starting to hold up its end of the bargain. Houston's offense wasn't quite as efficient as usual Saturday, but the defense picked up the slack by holding SMU scoreless for the first 51 minutes of a 37-7 victory. After giving up at least 34 points in four of its first eight games this season, Houston has allowed an average of 12.3 points over its past three contests. Houston still would struggle mightily against an SEC or Big 12 offense in a BCS game, but this defense has come a long way since the start of the season.
Mike Huguenin's Week 12 awards
[Slideshow: Penn State gets first win since Paterno firing]
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