The Trojan loss blasted open the at-large picture in the BCS and opened the door to a host of new contenders. The news should have been treated especially well in Boise, where the undefeated Broncos now have a real chance to join the party as a second mid-major team, as they hung a 63-25 beatdown on Idaho. And the Pac-10 race stayed open. Oregon stayed in first place, overwhelming Arizona State on the ground behind 150 yards from LaMichael James. But Stanford is only a game back and has the tiebreaker on the Ducks based on their head-to-head win last week. Arizona slipped out of a tie for first when they lost at Cal. The Golden Bears were able to keep Nic Foles from making the big play in the passing game and chiseled out a 24-16 win, their best win of this frustrating season in Berkeley.
Whomever survives the Pac-10 wars knows who their opponent will be in Pasadena. Ohio State survived a noble effort by Iowa and pulled out a 27-24 overtime win that clinched both a share of the title and the Rose Bowl bid. The Hawkeyes got a gutty game from their redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg, who threw for 233 yards. They got a kickoff return for a touchdown. They kept Terrelle Pryor thoroughly in check. But the Buckeyes did it in a way near and dear to Jim Tressel’s heart—they muscled Iowa on the ground, with 103 yards from Brandon Saine and 97 more from Daniel Herron. And they won the turnover battle, intercepting Vandenberg twice in regulation, and once on a desperation fourth-down heave in overtime, while making zero mistakes themselves. Run the ball, don’t beat yourself and keep winning games. That’s been the Tressel way since he got there. Because of Ohio State’s five-game losing streak in major national games (BCS, plus two USC games) it’s easy to deride that. But I can’t help but contrast the way Ohio State responds to being out of the national picture to the way USC did. The Buckeyes hunkered down, controlled what they could and won a conference championship. USC threw in the towel and quit. The latter program might have more team speed, but the former has more heart. Which is a more admirable virtue?
Penn State (along with Iowa & Wisconsin) can still tie Ohio State if the Buckeyes stumble next week. But the Nittany Lions probably don’t need any outside help to make a BCS game if they get to 10-2. They weren’t impressive in beating Indiana 31-20. They fell behind 10-0, and in a tie game needed a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown, or we might be talking about another upset. But they didn’t let the Hoosiers go anywhere on the ground and got the win their final home game—and you never know when that final home game means it’s also Joe Paterno’s final home game. PSU is one win away from another big bowl date, which would be three in five years for Joe Pa after his critics said he could never return the program to the big stage.
One midmajor team that’s more than ready for the big stage is the TCU Horned Frogs. They absolutely annihilated Utah, taking a 38-14 lead by halftime on their way to the easy win. They did it by winning the battle up front. Ed Wesley rushed for 137 yards. Meanwhile, Utah’s Eddie Wide was a non-factor. And TCU didn’t beat themselves and just let the Utes pile up 110 yards of penalties. The Horned Frogs are ready to coast into the BCS.
Cincinnati’s on track for the BCS, but they are anything but coasting. They again were vulnerable on the ground, surrendering over 200 yards rushing to West Virginia on Friday night. The 24-21 final is deceptively close—the Bearcats went to a prevent and let WVA score a touchdown with less than a minute left, then just covered the onside kick to seal the deal. But they needed Isaiah Pead’s big 175-yard rushing effort to hold off a spirited fort from the Mountaineers. Cincy still has Illinois and Pitt ahead of them and they need to defend the run with a little more fervor if they’re going to avoid the road upset.
And finally, the Big Three of Texas, Florida and Alabama refused to crack. The Gators survived South Carolina 24-14. Tim Tebow again showed that he’s having a nice solid year and is a good game-managing quarterback for a team with a great defense, and provides some real leadership qualities. Let’s celebrate him for what he is and not try to turn these low-key outings into the work of a Heisman contender. Put Tebow with Notre Dame and he’d be in deep trouble, without a running game or defense. Put Jimmy Clausen with the Gators and Florida might never be stopped on a drive again.
Alabama rolled past Mississippi State, with 149 yards from a real Heisman contender in Mark Ingram. Texas blew out Baylor, giving up only six yards on the ground.
Tomorrow we’ll look at how the race for some of the better undercard bowl spots is shaping up after Saturday, as well as some division races in the superconferences.