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Sunday, November 19, 2006
Rare circumstances lead to BCS clarity

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NO COMPLAINING PLEASE

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving week if we didn't complain about USC and the BCS.

In 2003, USC fans complained about how USC would get left out. They were right.

USC

In 2005, Texas fans complained about how USC had been given the BCS crystal football before the game was played. They were right.

In 2006, it's USC fans' turn again. The Trojans trail Michigan by a margin somewhere well right of the decimal point. For those who think it's time again to complain about USC and the BCS, they are ... wrong.

Here's the point: The BCS got lucky this year. With two Saturdays left in the regular season, there are five teams jockeying for position behind Ohio State, and most of them play each other or have already played each other.

No. 2 Michigan lost to No. 1 Ohio State, 42-39.

No. 2 Michigan already defeated No. 6 Notre Dame, 47-21.

No. 3 USC plays No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday.

No. 3 USC defeated No. 5 Arkansas, 50-14.

No. 4 Florida plays No. 5 Arkansas on Dec. 2.

Call it Six Degrees of Beano Cook. It's unusual that five teams from three different time zones would all have one loss and have enough connections between them that fans and poll voters can make judgments this informed.

Personally, I don't think it's fair that a USC defeat of Notre Dame would be judged against Michigan's rout of the Irish. The Notre Dame of Nov. 25 is not the same team that was wiped out against the Wolverines.

Arkansas

Likewise, if Notre Dame beats USC and Arkansas finishes with victories over No. 9 LSU and No. 4 Florida, I don't think it's fair to dismiss the Razorbacks vis--vis the Irish because Arkansas got humiliated by USC on Labor Day weekend. That was so long ago that the Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense and the Republicans still controlled Congress. Arkansas would have won 12 straight games.

Head-to-head competition is not always valid. For instance, Notre Dame beat Florida State in November 1993, then turned around and lost to lower-ranked Boston College. Florida State won the national championship.

But this season, head-to-head competition will make the judgments easier. With that in mind, it's hard to imagine a team other than USC or Michigan playing Ohio State on Jan. 8. The Irish may beat the Trojans, but the Irish won't leap over the Wolverines.

USC fans may have reason to complain again, but this season, the best teams got to play each other. We don't get to say that very often.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

LOS ANGELES -- How do you replace a backfield that included Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 pick in last spring's NFL draft, and LenDale White, a second-round pick in the pro draft?

If you're Southern California coach Pete Carroll, you keep plugging in rotations until one works. The No. 3 Trojans used their eighth tailback/fullback combination in 10 games against No. 17 California on Saturday night, and the tandem of freshmen C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford proved to be one of their best in a 23-9 win that kept them in the national championship race.

C.J. Gable
Jeff Lewis/US Presswire
C.J. Gable might be the answer in the USC backfield.

Gable, who started at tailback in the opener against Arkansas and then carried only 28 times in the next nine games, was back in the lineup against the Bears because starter Chauncey Washington was hobbled by a sprained knee.

Gable, from Sylmar, Calif., north of Los Angeles, ran 19 times for 91 yards and turned a short pass into a 35-yard gain. His only reception of the game set up John David Booty's 25-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett, which put the Trojans ahead 16-9 early in the fourth quarter.

"I was getting too excited early on and I knew I had to calm down," Gable said. "After a couple of carries, I was able to focus and take it from there."

The Trojans have used five tailbacks, including four freshmen, while trying to replace Bush and White, who accounted for 6,328 rushing yards and an NCAA teammate record 97 touchdowns in their three college seasons.

USC expected senior Herschel Dennis to carry the load at tailback this season, but he re-injured knee ligaments during spring practice and was lost for the season. So the Trojans have waited patiently for someone to step forward.

Washington, who was academically ineligible the previous two seasons, led USC in rushing for five straight games, but sprained his knee in a 35-10 win over Oregon on Nov. 11.

So Gable, who hasn't yet mastered pass protection and blitz recognition, stepped into the role against the Bears.

"That's the best C.J. has looked," offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. "C.J. started the opener for us; it's not like he came out of nowhere. But that's the most explosive he's looked."

GOING FOR THE HAT TRICK

Ohio State was the first team since Army in 1945 to play in two 1 vs. 2 games in the same regular season and became only the third team, including that Army squad, to win a pair of regular-season 1 vs. 2 games. The Buckeyes, of course, beat No. 2 Texas on Sept. 9 for their first such win of 2006.

Winning two 1 vs. 2 games in a season
Year Team Defeated
2006 Ohio State * No. 2 Texas, No. 2 Michigan
1971 Nebraska No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 2 Alabama (Orange Bowl)
1963 Texas No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Navy (Cotton Bowl)
1945 Army * No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 2 Navy
1943 Notre Dame * No. 2 Michigan, No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight
* Both in regular season

Including bowl games, only two other teams have won a couple of 1 vs. 2 meetings in the same season, and assuming the final BCS standings agree with the AP poll, the Buckeyes will have the opportunity to score college football's first hat trick -- three 1 vs. 2 wins in one season.

The Michigan-OSU game was only the fifth 1 vs. 2 matchup of conference opponents in college football history, and if the final two weeks of the regular season produce a rematch of those teams for the national championship, history favors the Buckeyes to win again. Ohio State is now 4-0 all-time in 1 vs. 2 games (3-0 as No. 1 and 2-0 in bowls). Michigan is now 0-4 in 1 vs. 2 games, all as the No. 2 team.

RE-RANKING THE RIVALRY

Upon further review, I think I need to revise that list about top rivalries and bump Michigan-Ohio State to the top spot. This was the most charged game-day atmosphere I've ever seen. It was like 10 straight hours of a goal-line stand vibe.

Thanks to Todd Jones, a columnist with the Columbus Dispatch, I got an up-close look at some of the pre-game traditions of Ohio State football, ranging from the fans serenading their beloved Bucks at the team hotel to the skull session, a pep rally inside a jammed old stacked-to-the-rafters basketball arena.

For someone raised as a Buckeye fan in upstate New York, it was a much cooler experience than I expected.

To read more about Bruce Feldman's experience in Columbus, click here.

COOKING AT RICE

Rice sophomore WR Jarett Dillard leads the nation with 17 TD receptions, and he has very quietly moved into a second-place tie on the Division I-A list for consecutive games with a TD catch ... technically, anyway. Dillard had a TD grab in the final two games of last season and has had at least one in all 11 games so far this season, tying Michigan State's Charles Rogers with 13 straight games and trailing only Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald, who had 18 in a row.

Jarett Dillard
Dillard

This is slightly misleading, though, because the NCAA didn't count bowl stats until the 2002 season. Therefore, Fitzgerald is credited with his bowl catches, but nobody else on the list is. If you count bowl games for everyone, Dillard is still one game behind Rogers and is tied with Desmond Howard and Randy Moss. Either way you slice it, the young man is in some elite company.

He'll go for second place -- sole possession or a tie with Rogers, depending on your point of view -- this Saturday against SMU in what has turned out to be a very significant game between 6-5 Conference USA foes. In addition to the Dillard Watch, both teams are hoping to lock down a bowl bid with a seventh win. The Owls haven't been to a bowl since 1961. For SMU, it would be the first bowl appearance since getting the death penalty from the NCAA in 1987.

LOOKING BACK AT MICHIGAN-OHIO STATE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The national championship game is now Ohio State against a 10-point underdog to be named later. But let's not fast-forward to the desert just yet.

On a day when the most-hyped game in the 103-year history of the most-hallowed rivalry is played, we should stay in the Midwestern moment. At least long enough to see how Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton celebrated it.

Barton knows how to do it right. When you wrap up a 12-0 record, a wire-to-wire regular-season run ranked No. 1, an undisputed Big Ten championship, a third straight victory over your ultimate rival and a Heisman Trophy for your star quarterback, you break out the good stuff.

Right away.

To read the rest of Pat Forde's story, click here.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The next time someone tells you that defense wins championships, sit him down and tell him about the offensive orgy staged in The Horseshoe on Saturday.

Tell him about how No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan gave their defenses the day off, about how the two most traditional powers in the smashmouth Big Ten Conference did their best impersonations of the old Western Athletic Conference shootouts where no scoreboard was safe.

Tell him how Ohio State earned the chance to play for its second national championship in five seasons. And then tell him again, because he won't believe you the first time.

To read the rest of Ivan Maisel's story, click here.

FIVE SATURDAY OBSERVATIONS
IVAN MAISEL
Big East 1. Big East defenders are demanding to know why, when Louisville beats West Virginia, 44-34, it proves that neither team is deserving of a chance to play for the national championship, but when Ohio State beats Michigan, 42-39, it proves that both teams are deserving of a chance to play for the national championship. Body of work does count for something -- the Mountaineers aren't stopping anyone very often -- but fans of the traditional powers might tone down their holier-than-thou rhetoric after that point-a-thon in Columbus.

Bo Schembechler
Schembechler
2. Bo Schembechler loved to needle people. On a teleconference last Wednesday with several other coaches who participate in the Master Coaches Survey, former USC coach John Robinson told a story about how he didn't play tailback Marcus Allen as a freshman. Allen went on to win the Heisman as a senior in 1981. After Robinson finished speaking, Schembechler, with great timing, said, "You always were a poor evaluator of talent."

3. In a story I wrote about Schembechler's press conference last Monday, I quoted the coach talking about the Dead Schembechlers band. "It's all right," Schembechler said. "Well, the one guy said, 'He almost joined us a couple of weeks ago,' which was true." The coach referred to a "cardiac episode" he had last month. Band member Bo Biafra wrote me Wednesday to say, "For the record, we have never spoken of, nor wished the death of, Coach Schembechler." On Friday, the band disbanded and promised to make a donation to the charity of the Schembechler family's choice.

Iowa 4. When Ohio State exposed Iowa's lack of defensive speed in a 38-17 victory on Sept. 30, it appeared to be more of an indication of the Buckeyes' talent. But when Minnesota threw for 267 yards and rushed for 192 in a 34-24 victory for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy, Iowa lost its fifth consecutive Big Ten game. The Hawkeyes have problems that coach Kirk Ferentz must solve for next season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he used bowl practice to begin solving them.

Washington 5. Iowa and Alabama both qualify for bowls at 6-6 despite going 2-6 in conference play. I can't imagine that will be attractive to any of the Big Ten and SEC bowls, if only because the fans are dispirited enough that bowl tickets may go left unsold. Who's No. 65? What's the best team that won't go to a bowl? Washington finished 5-7 with victories over UCLA, Arizona and Washington State and narrow losses to USC, Cal and Arizona State. The Huskies also had the mitigating circumstance of losing starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback to injury at midseason.

COLLEGE GAMEDAY RECAP
Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit break down if there should be a rematch.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE FINAL CREW
RECE DAVIS
Big Ten Over the last few weeks, the popular phrase, "College football's regular season already is a playoff" has been used too many times to count. Now comes the big test for that theory. If the regular season truly is a playoff, then there can be no such thing as a rematch of Ohio State and Michigan, because Michigan would be eliminated. If a rematch occurs, then those words should never be uttered again.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Jolonn Dunbar, Boston College
2 fumble returns for TDs vs. Maryland

Justin Willis, SMU
283 total yds, 3 total TDs in comeback win vs. Tulsa

LOU HOLTZ
Notre Dame We know Notre Dame has the offensive weapons, and the defense is much improved from what it was a year ago. But the biggest advantage Notre Dame might have against USC is that it has not had to play emotionally for about seven weeks. Expect the Irish to be at their peak on Saturday.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Ahmad Bradshaw, Marshall
261 rush yards, 5 TDs vs. UTEP

John Beck, BYU
464 pass yards, 4 TDs vs. New Mexico

MARK MAY
Ohio State Despite all the hype over Michigan's defensive front, the Ohio State offensive line did as much as Troy Smith to lead the Buckeyes to victory. They protected Smith well enough that he was able to beat Michigan strictly from the pocket this time, and they opened up enough holes for the backs to have some big game-changing runs. Give Smith his due, but give the big guys some love, too.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Troy Smith, Ohio State
Career-high 316 pass yards, 4 TDs vs. Michigan

Quentin Groves, Auburn
2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles vs. Alabama

LOOKING BACK: CAL-USC
TROJANS FINISH STRONG
USC went from Ugly Betty to a Song Girl in less than five minutes against Cal to stay in the BCS beauty pageant, writes Mark Schlabach. Story
HIGHLIGHTS: BEARS-TROJANS
USC tops Cal to clinch Pac-10 title.
HIGHLIGHTS: WOLVERINES-BUCKEYES
Ohio State outlasted Michigan on Saturday to clinch a BCS title spot.
HIGHLIGHTS: KNIGHTS-BEARCATS
Rutgers fell out of the BCS title race with a blowout loss to Cincinnati.