Commentary

Insanity Saturday now leads to Survival Saturday

Updated: October 1, 2007, 2:01 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

One of the most unpredictable weekends in recent college football history exposed plenty of pretenders.

Ben Moffitt
Chris Livingston/Icon SMIBen Moffitt and South Florida have run their way into the BCS picture.

Nine of the 25 teams ranked in last week's AP poll lost. Five of the top 10 fell, including No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 West Virginia, No. 7 Texas and No. 10 Rutgers.

As a result, a boatload of previous also-rans are suddenly BCS contenders.

California, which hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since 1959, is ranked No. 3. Wisconsin, which nearly lost at UNLV and allowed 31 points to The Citadel, is No. 5. South Florida, which didn't even play football a dozen years ago and was unranked just three weeks ago, is No. 6. Boston College climbed to No. 7 after beating a Division I-AA opponent by 10 points, and Kentucky is suddenly ranked No. 8. The Wildcats haven't won an outright SEC championship since 1950.

A lot of teams are in unfamiliar territory, which suggests the next two months will be even more fickle.

"[The upsets] tell you how hard it is to go unblemished," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "You watch, it's a marathon, not a sprint."

This year's BSC marathon figures to be more grueling and unpredictable than ever before. Even the top two teams look far from perfect.

LSU trailed Tulane 9-7 in the first half on Saturday, but won 34-9 and jumped USC to No. 1 in the AP poll the next day. The Trojans dropped after an unsightly 27-24 victory at Washington on Saturday night. USC committed a variety of mistakes against the Huskies: 16 penalties, three turnovers, a missed field goal and blocked punt.

"We're complimented by the vote," LSU coach Les Miles said. "But in no way, shape or form do we feel like we are a finished product. It also tells you that the voters didn't get up early in the morning to watch our game. They kind of slept in and got caught up on the score later in the day."

Last week's rash of upsets produced plenty of must-see TV this coming weekend. Survival Saturday includes three key games in the SEC, a pair of separation games in both the Big Ten and Big 12 and surprising contests of consequence in the ACC and Big East.

Kentucky at South Carolina (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Before the season, Steve Spurrier told anyone who would listen that his Gamecocks were ready to compete in the SEC East. Who knew South Carolina would have to beat the Wildcats to prove it? Kentucky is the only team in the SEC East with an unbeaten record in conference play. A victory at South Carolina would give the Wildcats two SEC road wins (they already won at Arkansas), before upcoming home games against No. 1 LSU and No. 9 Florida.

Florida at LSU (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)
After a stunning 20-17 loss to unranked Auburn on Saturday, the defending national champions are fighting for their lives in the SEC East. Only three times in the 15 seasons since the SEC split into divisional play has the SEC East winner had more than one conference loss. The Gators looked shaky in a 30-24 win at Ole Miss two weeks ago and now they'll play in one of college football's most intimidating environments. Florida beat the Tigers 23-10 in The Swamp last season, a win that helped propel Florida to the BCS National Championship Game.

"The phrase I was taught as a young person is the soul of a man is exposed when you get hit in the face," said Meyer, who has yet to lose consecutive games in three seasons at Florida. "I don't want to overdramatize a loss in football with some of the major issues in life. But the soul of a man isn't exposed when you pick up a crystal ball and put on a championship ring. A lot of people can do that. It's when you have to rebound from some adversity."

Georgia at Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
The No. 12 Bulldogs have a second chance in the SEC East after losing to South Carolina in their league opener. Tennessee is still alive after a 59-20 loss at Florida on Sept. 15. Georgia has won its last three games at Neyland Stadium; the Vols scored 37 points in the second half to win at Georgia 51-33 last season. Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer probably needs to win this game to stay off the hot seat.

"It is new ball game in the SEC race right now," Fulmer said. "We need to take advantage of that and do our part."

Wisconsin at Illinois (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN)
All of the sudden, Ron Zook can't lose. The Illini upset Penn State 27-20, their first win against a ranked opponent since 2001. Illinois hasn't beaten a top-five ranked opponent since a 14-13 win over No. 5 USC on Sept. 4, 1989. After losing 30 of 32 Big Ten games during the previous four seasons, the Illini can improve to 3-0 in the conference with an upset of the Badgers. Wisconsin has looked vulnerable each of its past four games, beating UNLV 20-13, The Citadel 45-31, Iowa 17-13 and Michigan State 37-34.

Curtis Painter
Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRECurtis Painter and Purdue get their first big test this week against Ohio State.

Ohio State at Purdue (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Are the No. 23 Boilermakers for real? We'll find out Saturday night when the No. 4 Buckeyes go to West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue has clobbered five opponents by an average of 25 points per game and has scored at least 33 points in each contest. Boilermakers quarterback Curtis Painter already has thrown for 1,542 yards and 18 touchdowns. But Purdue hasn't faced a defense as menacing as the Buckeyes, who have yet to face a team as explosive as the Boilermakers.

Nebraska at Missouri (Saturday, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The No. 17 Tigers are 4-0 and haven't been tested since a 40-34 win over Illinois in the opener. Quarterback Chase Daniel has thrown for 1,311 yards and 13 touchdowns. Despite playing a soft schedule, Missouri ranks 93rd in the country in total defense, allowing 434.5 yards per game. The Tigers will have to slow down Cornhuskers quarterback Sam Keller and tailback Marlon Lucky to improve to 5-0.

Kansas at Kansas State (Saturday, noon ET)
Wildcats versus Paper Tigers? Kansas State is coming off a 41-21 stunner at Texas, its first-ever road win at a top-10 ranked opponent. The 4-0 Jayhawks have steamrolled lesser opponents Central Michigan, Southeast Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International. Kansas ranks third in the country in both total offense (552.8 yards per game) and total defense (218.8 yards per game). Kansas has at least 500 yards of offense in every game and has allowed 23 points this season.

Cincinnati at Rutgers (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
With Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia having already lost, this game suddenly has huge implications. The Bearcats keep winning under first-year coach Brian Kelly, thanks to the country's best turnover margin. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 34-24 loss to Maryland, but can remain atop the Big East standings with a victory.

Virginia Tech at Clemson (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
It will be the first full-game road test for Hokies freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who took over for Sean Glennon during LSU's 48-7 blasting of Virginia Tech on Sept. 8. The Hokies rank 112th in the country in total offense (285.6 yards per game), and tailback Branden Ore has been unable to get on track behind a poor offensive line. Clemson's questionable blocking finally cost the Tigers a win in a 13-3 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday. Even with tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Clemson ranks 63rd in the country in rushing with 150 yards per game.

On (and Off) the Mark

On the Mark
Defensive difference makers. South Florida linebacker Ben Moffitt (two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown in 21-13 upset of West Virginia). Virginia Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi (15 tackles, one sack, one interception in 17-10 win over North Carolina). Hokies linebacker Cam Martin (three sacks, 10 tackles versus Tar Heels). Texas A&M cornerback Marquis Carpenter (two interceptions in 34-10 victory over Baylor). BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl (nine tackles and returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown in a 31-24 win at New Mexico). Nebraska cornerback Cortney Grixby (two interceptions in 35-17 defeat of Iowa State). Georgia Tech linebacker Phillip Wheeler (seven tackles, 2½ sacks in 13-3 upset of Clemson). Kansas State defensive end Ian Campbell (41-yard interception return for a touchdown in 41-21 upset of Texas). California linebacker Anthony Felder (nine tackles, interception in fourth quarter of 31-24 win at Oregon).

(Off) The Mark
Like most college football coaches, Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione rarely discusses players' injuries with the media. But it was discovered last week that Fran disclosed inside information to a select group of Aggie supporters, who paid him $1,200 per year for a subscription to a newsletter called "VIP Connection." When the San Antonio Express-News discovered the e-mail reports, Texas A&M officials ordered Franchione to stop the questionable practice. No word on whether subscribers will receive a refund for their advance scouting report on the Aggies' game plan before the Miami game.

On the Mark
Special specialists. Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in a 27-20 upset of Penn State (he also had six catches for 84 yards and one score). Colorado's Kevin Eberhart kicked a 45-yard field goal as time expired to upset Oklahoma 27-24. Auburn kicker Wes Byrum made a 43-yard field goal (twice) as time expired to upset Florida 20-17. Kansas State running back James Johnson had an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the upset of Texas. Wildcats receiver Jordy Nelson returned a punt 89 yards for a score (and caught 12 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown). Georgia Tech freshman D.J. Donley blocked a punt and recovered a fumble on a kickoff in the upset of Clemson. Arkansas State's Kevin Jones had an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 35-31 comeback against Memphis. Houston's Donnie Avery returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a 37-35 loss to East Carolina.

(Off) the Mark
The Big East. The upstart conference took more hits than Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen during the first month of the season. Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia were considered BCS contenders at the start of the season, but each has already lost. The Cardinals lost to Kentucky and Syracuse. West Virginia fell at South Florida on Friday night, and Rutgers was upset at home by Maryland on Saturday.

Ian Johnson
Brian Losness-US PRESSWIREIan Johnson carried Boise State on the ground this weekend.
On the Mark
Ground-churning tailbacks. Boise State's Ian Johnson (111 yards, three touchdowns in 38-16 win over Southern Miss). Purdue's Kory Sheets (141 yards, one touchdown in 33-19 victory over Notre Dame). Georgia's Thomas Brown (16 carries for 180 yards and three touchdowns in 45-17 win over Ole Miss). Colorado's Hugh Charles (110 yards, one touchdown in the upset of Oklahoma). Nebraska's Marlon Lucky (16 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown and threw a 20-yard touchdown to Sean Hill in the win over Iowa State). Kent State's Eugene Jarvis (230 yards, two touchdowns in 33-25 victory over Ohio). Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice (32 carries for 145 yards and one touchdown in upset of Clemson). Louisville's Brock Bolen (112 yards, one touchdown in 29-10 win at N.C. State). Maryland's Keon Lattimore (34 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown) and Lance Ball (12 carries, 90 yards, two scores in 34-24 upset at Rutgers). Wisconsin's P.J. Hill (34 attempts, 155 yards and two scores in 37-34 victory over Michigan State). UTEP's Marcus Thomas (207 yards, three touchdowns in 48-45 win over SMU). Central Florida's Kevin Smith (33 carries for 223 yards and three touchdowns in 37-19 win over Louisiana-Lafayette). Arkansas' Darren McFadden (138 yards, two touchdowns) and Felix Jones (132 yards, two scores in 66-7 rout of North Texas). Ohio State's Chris Wells (116 yards, two touchdowns in 30-7 win at Minnesota). Tulsa's Tarrion Adams (183 yards, one touchdown in 38-30 win over UAB). Arizona's Nicholas Grigsby (186 yards in 48-20 win over Washington State).

(Off) the Mark
What has happened to Iowa? It wasn't long ago that the Hawkeyes were a Big Ten championship contender and Kirk Ferentz was the hottest name in the coaching profession. But after losing at home to Indiana 38-20 on Saturday, Iowa is 0-2 in Big Ten play and has lost seven consecutive games against conference foes. Worse, Iowa is 15-15 since the start of the 2005 season. The Hoosiers sacked quarterback Jake Christensen nine times. Iowa ranks 92nd in the country in total offense (336 yards per game) and 102nd in scoring offense (19.4 points per game). Iowa's road doesn't get any easier: at Penn State, home against Illinois, at Purdue and home against Michigan State.

"The bottom line is we're not giving ourselves enough chances to win a ball game," Ferentz told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. "We obviously have some areas of concern right now."

Xavier Lee
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesXavier Lee will get the starting nod this week after his performance against Alabama.
On The Mark
Upsets galore. South Florida's defense. Arkansas State's comeback. Quarterbacks return (Michigan's Chad Henne, UCLA's Ben Olson, Utah's Brian Johnson, FSU's Xavier Lee). Indiana quarterbacks (Indiana's Kellen Lewis, Ball State's Nate Davis, Purdue's Curtis Painter). Miami quarterback Kyle Wright's toughness (threw for 230 yards, two touchdowns in 24-14 victory over Duke, after getting four stitches in the mouth). Clausen's first touchdown pass. Indiana's big road win. South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley's first start (he didn't stink). Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson (301 yards, five touchdowns in 45-17 win over Florida Atlantic). Florida Atlantic cornerback Tavious Polo (seven interceptions this season). Navy's grip on the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins' poise. Maryland's defense. Auburn's defense. Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns versus Oregon). Cal safety Marcus Ezeff's big tackle. Virginia's revival. Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree (three touchdown catches in a 75-7 win over Northwestern State, giving him 14 this season). Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama (346 passing yards, five touchdowns against Washington State). Upcoming games on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and, of course, Saturday.

(Off) The Mark
West Virginia's offense. Texas' offense, defense and special teams. USC's discipline (16 penalties, three turnovers and a blocked punt in 27-24 win at Washington). LSU's offensive line (six sacks allowed in 34-9 win at Tulane). Notre Dame's 0-5 start. Syracuse's flop. NC State's turnovers. Clemson's running game. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan's five interceptions. The Red River Shootout. Pittsburgh. Mississippi State's luck. Penn State. Memphis' collapse. Oregon State's special teams.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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