The College Football Notebook

November 16, 2009 2:00 PM

Pitt Comes Up Big

The vast middle class of college football isn’t fighting for BCS bowl bids or talking about national championships. They’re looking for the bowl game that will give them the most opportunity to redeem or crown their seasons. Both sides of this came head-to-head in the Steel City, when Pitt hosted Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Panthers gave the Big East—and by extension themselves—the inside track on the Gator Bowl when they survived a late ND comeback to win 27-22. The Fighting Irish story was a familiar one—good game from Jimmy Clause, as he consistently found Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. But no support on the ground. Meanwhile, Pitt got the ground game from Dion Lewis, who rolled for 152 yards, and their attack was more balanced. Jonathan Baldwin had a big night receiving, racking up 142 yards, including one spectacular catch-and-run in the first half. Perhaps more damaging to Charlie Weis (as though he needed more damage than a simple loss) is that Pitt also won because they fared better in areas that are often about discipline—no turnovers and only a single five-yard penalty. The Panthers are still tied for first and have a shot at the BCS, but at minimum they took a big step to the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day with this win.

The Gator is one of two bowls, along with the Chick-Fil-A on December 31, they are prime prizes in the ACC. The division races are close to over. Georgia Tech formally clinched the Coastal when the kept Duke’s Thaddeus Lewis from getting the ball in the hands of his receivers and won 49-10. Clemson need only win its conference finale to secure the Atlantic, as they easily beat N.C. State, forcing Russell Wilson into another disappointing outing in what’s been a rough sophomore year for the Wolfpack quarterback. While these two fight for the championship, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami are angling for spots in Jacksonville & Atlanta.

Virginia Tech rolled past Maryland on a rainy day with this writer in attendance. Tyred Taylor had a big day and Ryan Williams ran well. The game was all but over by halftime and we moved down from our upper deck seats to vacated ones closer to the action. And North Carolina beat Miami 33-24, intercepting Jacory Harris three times, while Tyler Yates played well on the other side. The Hokies still have a very outside shot of sneaking an at-large BCS. More likely they got the inside track on the Gator, while North Carolina continues a late run to save its season. The Tar Heels are now 7-3 and a shot at one of their league’s two nicest consolation prizes. Boston College is still in the hunt for the conference championship if Clemson loses, thanks to the weakness of the Atlantic Division. But that will not translate into passing any of the immediately aforementioned teams in the bowl pecking order. Beating Virginia in a penalty-ridden 14-10 game kept the Eagles alive, but if it’s not Orange Bowl for them, it will be a long drop to the next spot.

Wisconsin firmly secured the fourth rung on the Big Ten ladder, something that will be good for an Outback Bowl berth if the league gets an at-large BCS bid. The Badgers pulled away from Michigan late 45-24. UW dominated the ground game and got more big plays in the passing game. Contrast these two numbers—Wiscy quarterback Scott Tolzien turned 16 completions into 240 yards, while Tate Forcier only got 188 yards out of 20 completions. When you control the line of scrimmage and make more big plays, three-touchdown wins are the result. Michigan needs to beat Ohio State or they will be 0-and-2 on bowls under Rich Rodriguez after hitting 33 straight prior to his arrival.

If UW gets to January 1, an SEC East opponent and Georgia took a big step toward becoming that opponent. After digging an early 14-point hole, the Bulldogs rallied to beat Auburn. Senior quarterback Joe Cox made no mistakes, while the Dawg defense picked off Chris Todd twice. That was the biggest difference. Losing this game hurt Auburn’s push for the Cotton Bowl, the comparable prize that awaits the SEC West. The Tigers’ main competition for Dallas is Ole Miss and the Rebels stunned Tennessee with a 42-17 thrashing. It was similar to Stanford’s win over USC. Ole Miss destroyed the Vols on the ground and then blew open a close game in the fourth quarter. Dexter McCluster completely went off, with 282 rush yards.

The Cotton Bowl’s other half would be filled out by the Big 12 runner-up, and Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Nebraska all came up with big wins. OU hung a 65-10 beating on Texas A&M. The margin of victory and the points catch your eye, but don’t overlook the fact that the Sooner rendered Jerrod Johnson completely ineffectual, something that hasn’t happened too often this year. Meanwhile, Nebraska kept the momentum of their upset of OU going by upending Kansas on the road. Todd Reusing had a good game for the Jay hawks, while running back Roy Nell Jr. was tough for the Huskers. But Nell had the support of a balanced attack and Nebraska used two late touchdowns to take sole possession of first in the Big 12 North. Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech to keep their own BCS hopes alive.

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