Nobody is likely getting past Big 12 or SEC
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It's not unusual that Alabama and Texas Tech have a clear path to the BCS Championship Game: Win all their games and they will reprise their Cotton Bowl matchup of three seasons ago. After all, if a team from an automatic-bid conference wins all its games -- and it isn't Auburn in 2004 -- then it plays for the BCS title.
But what is unusual is that the teams first in line behind the Crimson Tide and the Red Raiders are from their own conferences. Check out the new BCS standings.
Florida, Alabama's last obstacle on the road to Dolphins Stadium, is, at No. 4, the Tide's biggest obstacle, too. They will play for the SEC championship on Dec. 6.
In the Big 12, No. 5 Oklahoma plays Texas Tech on Nov. 22. If the Sooners defeat the Red Raiders, will the computers and voters vault the Sooners past No. 3 Texas, which defeated Oklahoma 45-35 on Oct. 11? The Big 12 South championship depends upon the answer. If the Red Raiders, Longhorns and Sooners finish 11-1, 7-1 in the Big 12, the team with the highest BCS standing will advance to the Big 12 championship game.
That's not how it has worked in past years in the BCS. In the typical season, the teams in the two best conferences in the nation beat each other into submission, and the champion or champions of other, less arduous conferences waltzed past the brawls and into the BCS Championship Game.
Ohio State has taken a lot of heat for using this formula in each of the past two seasons. But the Buckeyes aren't the only program to do so. In 2001, Nebraska bulked up on such a diet of weak teams that the Huskers survived a regular-season rout by Colorado and made it in to the Rose Bowl to play for the national title. Oregon, which won a Pacific-10 Conference that had four teams in the top 15 of the final BCS standing, finished fourth.
The BCS commissioners have changed the BCS formula a couple of times since then, and in the past three seasons, there have been few complaints about the final pairing. Still, none of this bodes well for the other three undefeated teams -- No. 7 Utah, No. 9 Boise State and No. 14 Ball State -- as well as No. 8 Penn State, which fell from No. 3 after losing at Iowa 24-23 on Saturday.
In more trouble is No. 6 USC, despite a defense displaying a stinginess that hearkens to an earlier era. The Trojans have allowed 60 points this season, an average of 6.7 points per game, and only one touchdown in their past five games. No team has allowed less than seven points per game since the 1986 Oklahoma Sooners. Yet, in this offense-crazed season, USC is having trouble gaining traction in the BCS standings. The Trojans' last three opponents -- Stanford (5-5), Notre Dame (5-4) and UCLA (3-6) -- won't help.
Calm Before The Storm
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Graham Harrell had a few early jitters. But he didn't have the meltdown that many observers expected.
His early fumble and the resulting Oklahoma State touchdown sparked a few groans about how Texas Tech would respond after last week's upset over Texas.
"I just wanted to stay calm," Harrell said. "It was only two minutes in the game and there was no reason to worry about it. We gave them the ball and they scored. But it was no reason to panic because we still had 58 minutes of football to play."
Harrell and the Red Raiders proceeded to erupt with a vintage offensive performance that even had Mike Leach smiling at the end of the game.
"Yeah, it [the fumble] wasn't good," Leach said. "But if anything, it was beneficial. It settled us down and we had better tempo after that."
Tech charged ahead with touchdowns on seven-straight possessions as they cruised to a resounding 56-20 victory over Oklahoma State.
"Seven-straight was good," Harrell said. "That's what it's all about: putting the last drive behind as you are scoring the next one."
The length of the drives were equally impressive. Tech marched for touchdowns on drives of 80, 70, 97, 72, 48, 80 and 96 yards. Only another fumble by Harrell on his final play of the game ended the streak.
"That's probably as good of a whole game as we've put together," said Eric Morris, who led Tech with 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. "We were clicking on all cylinders."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't want to waste any time.
He told offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and quarterback John Parker Wilson that he wanted to take a shot on the Crimson Tide's first play in overtime.
It's no coincidence that first shot went to freshman receiver Julio Jones, whose catch down on the goal line was the kind of play Alabama fans salivated about when he signed with the Crimson Tide back in February.
"He's a special guy. He works so hard. He's a tremendous athlete, the best I've ever seen," Wilson said. "The way he carries himself and makes plays and doesn't let anything affect him … he's really good and going to be really good for a long time."
Jones' body control on his 24-yard catch to set up Wilson's game-winning touchdown plunge in overtime was amazing enough. He came out of his route, went high in the air and made a tough adjustment on the ball look routine in Alabama's 27-21 win over LSU.
It's the kind of play Alabama players have become accustomed to seeing from the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jones.
"He's been doing that since the first day he got here," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "If the ball's thrown around him, he's going to go get it."
Here's the other thing about Jones: He's a bull after the catch. He's so strong and rarely goes down with the first hit.
He also uses his size to his advantage when smaller cornerbacks try to match up one-on-one against him.
Three Weekend Observations
By Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com
1. Here's the secret to Iowa 24, No. 3 Penn State 23: The Hawkeyes didn't stop the Nittany Lions as much as they slowed them down. Penn State, which in nine games had 52 plays of 20 yards or more, had only one such play in cold, wet Kinnick Stadium. Also, Penn State had scored 33 touchdowns in 47 trips inside the red zone, a rate of 70.2 percent. The JoePas scored two touchdowns in five such trips Saturday. That's how nearly 36 minutes of possession and one turnover (excluding the squib kick on the last play of the game) added up to only 23 points.
2. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden made a reputation with his "barnyard plays." Bowden used to say he called them because he had to. In the 1990s, when the Seminoles had more talent than their opponents, Bowden's teams didn't run trick plays. That came to mind when Louis Givens ran that double reverse for 27 yards Saturday in Florida State's 41-27 victory over Clemson. The Seminoles may be 7-2 and tied for the ACC Atlantic lead, but they haven't separated themselves from anyone just yet.
3. What if they gave a bowl and nobody qualified? The Pac-10 has deals with seven bowls and has a real chance of coming up short. The Pac-10 needs a Stanford victory over No. 6 USC or Cal just to get a sixth team into the postseason. And if USC makes it to the BCS Championship Game, the Pac-10 could leave three from among the Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Emerald and Hawaii bowls scrambling for replacements.
Penn State's loss to Iowa reminds us once again the golden rule of the BCS: Never complain about the system until the regular season is complete. Note to fans: Stop worrying about getting left out and start worrying about winning out.
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• NT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
12 tackles, 2½ sacks, receiving TD vs. Kansas
• RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
144 yards, 2 TDs vs. UCLA
I don't know if anyone is playing better than Oklahoma, at least offensively. Those guys score pretty much whenever they want. I cannot wait to see OU and Texas Tech butt heads in Norman.
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• WR Jamarko Simmons, Western Michigan
11 rec, 174 yards, TD vs. Illinois
• FS Rashad Johnson, Alabama
3 Ints (one for TD, one in OT) vs. LSU
How can you not be impressed with Alabama receiver Julio Jones? He's physical and has a nose for the football, and I love the yards after contact he gets. He doesn't play like a freshman. He plays like a senior.
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• PK Daniel Murray, Iowa
Game-winning FG vs. Penn State
• QB Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
40-50, 456 yards, 6 TDs vs. Oklahoma State