The College Football Notebook

October 5, 2009 10:20 PM

The SEC West Rises

The West asserted itself in the SEC’s intra-divisional warfare on Saturday and the running game was the key. LSU beat Georgia 20-13 and Auburn got Tennessee 26-22, both wins coming on the road. Georgia & Tennessee had slight edges in passing yardage, but they were beaten by decisive advantages on the ground.

LSU was led by Charles Scott, who ran for 95 yards, including a 33-yard run in the final minute that turned a 13-12 deficit into a win the fourth-ranked Tigers. Auburn’s hero was Ben Tate who took the ball 25 times and produced 128 yards. For LSU-Georgia, it was the end to an unconventional defensive battle. It was a 6-0 game after three quarters before the score opened up. I’ve taken the Bulldogs to task a few times in this space for not playing D. They did it for most of the game on this day, but when LSU needed to launch their final drive they did it in a span of 25 seconds. Georgia’s a good team, but not BCS-caliber. With Florida, Alabama and now LSU clearly ahead of them in the race for two major bowl spots, the best the Dawgs can realistically hope for is the Capital One, unless they find someway to upset the Gators and win the East.

It’s unlikely that Auburn can get into the BCS race, but this win puts them in the mix for the Capital One, or possibly the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers got efficient play from quarterback Chris Todd to support their running game, while Tennessee suffered a loss that has to be considered a bitter disappointment. That “moral victory” when they lost by ten points at Florida, is the high point of their year. Otherwise they have home losses here and to UCLA, plus an unimpressive win against Ohio U last week. The outlook on Lane Kiffin doesn’t look real promising right now.

The running game was also a defining point in the Pac-10’s key games. Who would have thought Jahvid Best’s Heisman campaign at Cal would so completely implode the last two weeks? USC held Best for 47 yards in a 30-3 romp in Berkley. The Golden Bears have been outscored by a stunning 72-6 in their first two conference games. Meanwhile, USC played its most complete offensive game of the season. Joe McKnight ran for 119 yards. Matt Barkley consistently hooked up Damian Williams, who netted over 100 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Stanford took out UCLA 24-16. The Notebook loves the Cardinals’ Toby Gerhart in the backfield. McKnight’s better known for having been on national television more often. Best had more ink coming into the season. A suspended back, LeGarrette Blount in Oregon, is in the news. But no one does it better in this league than Gerhart, who carried 29 times for 134 yards. Stanford is now 3-0 in the Pac-10. If USC plays like it did on Saturday, the Cardinal will not beat them. But if they’re off, Gerhart & Co. have a real shot to take them down. If nothing else, Stanford has a real shot at 9-10 wins this year.

Elsewhere in the Pac-10, Oregon showed they aren’t going anywhere, as they blasted Washington State 52-6. The Cougars aren’t any good, but the victory margin is 25 points higher than the one USC was able to hang on WSU. Right now the Pac-10 is shaping up with the Trojans holding the frontrunner spot, with the Ducks and Cards as the most viable champions in the event of a slipup.

It was an exciting week in the Big Ten, with a couple of games coming down to the last minute. Wisconsin stayed unbeaten with a 31-28 win in Minnesota, spoiling the conference debut of the Gophers’ new outdoor stadium. Last week, the Notebook opined that Michigan’s comeback was being overstated in the media. The Wolverines vindicated that with an overtime loss at Michigan State, a team who had just been beaten in succession by Central Michigan, Notre Dame and the Badgers, none of whom would be mistaken for a title contender in the Big Ten (at least if the first two played in the conference).

When Saturday opened, there was no reason to think there would be any news on the midmajor front. There were no showcase matchups and no danger seemingly lurking. But those impressions were mistaken. While Boise State took care of UC-Davis and TCU dispatched SMU with some modest trouble, Houston wasn’t so lucky. The Cougars got 536 passing yards from Case Keenum, who aired it out 76 times. But UTEP got an amazing 262 yards on the ground from Donald Buckham, and hung 58 points on the board, while delivering a death blow to Houston’s BCS hopes.

To close off this week’s recaps, I have to make a little bit of a rant. I watch ESPN’s College Football Live on tivo in the morning and this seems to be nothing more than a half-hour of trotting out the top five of everyone in the employ of ESPN. How many times can you listen to people argue about who the #4 or #5 teams in the country should be? We know this—Alabama, Florida & LSU control one half of the national title game picture and will eliminate each other. Texas controls the other. If they want to debate whether a one-loss Virginia Tech or USC should go in ahead of an undefeated Boise State or Cincinnati, that would be a worthy discussion. But just listening to people whose opinions are about as consequential in the real world as mine have academic debates about whether Tech or Oklahoma (at the time) or LSU should be fourth is a waste of time.

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