By
Dave Hershorin
September 18, 2006

Bowden Bowl VIII lived up to the hype by being one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. Tommy’s Tiger’s scored with eight seconds left to break a 20-20 tie and give son Tommy a 3-5 record against his dad Bobby. The big play they used twice at the end with amazing success was the same play – a quick handoff that uses no fakes and catches FSU before they line up so the Noles then have trouble coming off of their initial blocks – that Oklahoma ran the entire 2001 Orange Bowl to exploit the Nole’s predictable over-pursuit when the Sooners won the BCS that season. Backed up to their own 15 yard line with 2:22 left in the fourth, it was a genius play call by the younger Bowden as the second time it went for 47 yards to the Nole four yard line and set up the winning score. FSU had just come back from a 20-9 deficit to tie it and looked like they could win as they got the ball at the Clemson 45 with 5:10 left. But Clemson got the stop on FSU’s inconsistent offense to force the punt and then go on for their final game-winning drive. The Seminole defense, which bailed out the sporadic offense all night, is not usually the liability it proved to be at the end. Clemson just made the plays it had to, seemingly all night and especially with the game on the line. Dating back to 2004, the Tiger’s last six losses (three of them in OT) had been by a total of 18 points. And with family bragging rights on the line, you just knew it would be a close one. Tommy proved why he is different than brother Jeff, State’s offensive coordinator, as he admitted his team’s mistakes at the halftime break and then learned from them to make his team better. FSU’s special teams tallied all of the team’s first half points (nine), for the offense could only muster 204 yards the entire game. Tommy has now beaten dad three of the last four times, and it was the Tiger’s first win in Tallahassee since 1989. With two of their three biggest road games behind them to reflect a now-seasoned squad, Clemson looks like their four returning front linemen can possibly take them high into the BCS rankings by year’s end. FSU will take its fans on the same rollercoaster ride they’ve been on since 2001, losing in games they should win and beating seemingly better squads to hang the carrot of promise so the Nole faithful can believe things are turned around. They aren’t, and the torture of rooting for this team will only bring scratching-headed dismay as FSU fails to ascend to college football’s upper echelon for another year.

Louisville handed Miami its second loss in three weeks, winning 31-7 even though losing Heisman hopeful Brian Brohm in the process. The Cardinal’s field general was injured in the third quarter as he fell on his hand while scrambling away from pressure. Though he is the second major offensive cog (Michael Bush broke his leg in week one) to go down, Louisville proved its depth by inserting former walk-on Hunter Caldwell and getting a strong performance from the sophomore. Also a former prep baseball and track star, Caldwell’s accurate arm and worthy feet will provide the same multiple threats that Brohm does as the junior hurler recovers for anywhere from the next three to six weeks. Miami seems to have offensive woes after turning over the entire offensive coaching staff in the offseason. The Cane’s young line is showing its inexperience, and QB Kyle Wright has yet to prove he comes from the same mold as the great past Coral Gable’s signal-callers. Like FSU, Miami can surprise anyone who wants to think they are not talented, but consistency will keep this squad from reaching any “next levels”. Louisville is on a collision course with West Virginia for their Thursday night November 2nd tilt that will probably determine the Big East title. Many are already saying the Redbirds have the stuff to beat WVU, and this past weekend proved that they will be able to keep up with the high-octane Mountaineer offense in that crucial home game. But for whichever team loses, will a possible 11-1 outcome be enough to win an at-large bid in the BCS coming out of the marginally weak Big East?

Florida did what it had to in Knoxville, scoring the go-ahead TD with 6:30 left to secure their 21-20 win. The Gator D chomped on Tennessee’s RBs, holding them to 16 yards and the Vol’s rushing attack officially to one first down and -11 yards (includes the two sacks of QB Erik Ainge). Give it to senior QB Chris Leak for his game-managing efforts that show he is grasping coach Urban Meyer’s complex offense. But the biggest surprise was the insertion of just-as-versatile (but bigger) freshman QB Tim Tebow, someone who much of the Gator faithful was clamoring for as the season began due to his enormous promise and Leak’s 2005 struggles in the spread. Meyer used Tebow exclusively as a runner, and his 29 yards on seven carries against a resurgent Vol defense proved how well he will carry the mantle once Leak is out of the picture. Two of Tebow’s carries were on third-downs and one was on fourth-down, and each of them was enough to keep the drives alive. UF’s ball-control offense held it over ten more minutes than UT and out-gained them by a hundred yards. They also won the field-position battle by averaging over nine more yards on their net punt results. Florida pinned the Vols inside their own 25 yard line on Tennessee’s last three drives. With the other two bigtime Sunshine State programs losing, the Gator win kept this from being only the second Saturday in 28 year that would have had all three teams losing on the same day. Kentucky this week offers Florida a respite before the four-game onslaught (vs. ‘Bama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia) that will truly test their wares. With iffy running dimensions on both sides of the ball, Tennessee cannot sleepwalk through their next two mid-major opponents, let alone the SEC slate that ensues thereafter. The Vol’s inclusion back into the nation’s elite tiers was ostensibly done too soon. Who knows where UT may wind up, but I have a feeling UF will wind up back in Atlanta come December 2nd playing for the league championship.

LSU lost its road bid at Auburn 7-3, leaving the Tigers from Alabama at the top of the SEC heap. LSU out-gained No.2 Auburn in total yards (311-182) but went 4-of-13 on third down conversions to Auburn’s 6-of-15 and could only muster one trip into the red zone with no points. Auburn converted a TD on Brandon Cox’ one-yard run late in the third quarter to end LSU’s streak of 16 quarters allowing no TDs (AU now has its own streak of not allowing a TD – nine quarters). The Bayou Bengals wound up at the Auburn four yard line as time expired in the second half for a thrilling end to this defensive struggle. LSU may have the best defense in the land, but Auburn figured out their offense and stiffened at just the right junctures to preserve Auburn’s 19th win in their last 20 SEC games. Cox is one of the most underrated QBs in the country. He may not have flashy numbers, but he is a great leader who can keep his troops cool and focused as all seems hopeless. Auburn has won seven of its last eight against AP top 10 opponents, and their 25-3 record since 2004 is third best in the country. No.5 Florida comes into Jordan-Hare October 14th and will likely be in the top 10 still, possibly giving us a preview of the SEC championship game.

Michigan paid back Notre Dame for last year’s home loss by beating the Irish in South Bend for the first time since 9-10-94 (26-24). It was a 47-21 drubbing that saw the Wolverines hold the Irish to 42 yards on their first eight possessions as Michigan went up 34-14 at the half. Charlie Weis’ running game had averaged 124 yards in ND’s first two games but was held to just four net ground yards the whole game. The Irish offense also had not lost a TO before they coughed up five (three INTs and two fumbles) that were converted into 24 Michigan points. The last time QB Brady Quinn threw three INTs was against Michigan in a 28-20 win September 11th, 2004. This time, the Wolverines used their own well-seasoned, balanced offense to expose ND’s shaky defense. The emergence of sophomore WR Mario Manningham (four snarls for 137 yards and three TDs) means that Michigan seniors Steve Breaston and TE Tyler Ecker have a legitimate complimentary receiver who will assure all can be open for QB Chad Henne’s efforts. The inexperienced Wolverine line appears to be gelling well, which is just in time for the Big Ten onslaught that begins with Wisconsin next week at home and doesn’t let up until after Iowa (Oct. 21st). Michigan vaults to No.6 in the latest AP poll while the Irish slip to No.12. Michigan is 19-14-1 all-time versus ND and 8-7-1 at Notre Dame Stadium. Hey, didn’t someone on this site predict, with all of the attention Ohio State and Notre Dame were getting, that this Michigan team would fly under most radar and sneak up on unsuspecting foes?

Oregon may have avoided a big home loss to Oklahoma by scoring two TDs in the last 3:12 to win 34-33. But the Sooner’s showing out in Eugene did more to legitimize their standing than it did to help the Ducks earn any respectability. Favored by six, Oregon gave up four turnovers (that produced 16 Sooner points) and needed to recover an onsides kickoff late to secure the win. Oklahoma, which lost its starting QB right before the season began, got 13-of-23 passing from senior stand-in Paul Thompson for 174 yards after All-American RB Adrian Peterson brought the Duck defense in with his 211 rushing yards. Many experts thought this was the game – against a highly-touted Oregon squad with BCS promise - that would take OU down a notch. Instead, it proves that the Sooners are for real and that Oregon seems like it will again be a Pac Ten bridesmaid to USC. The Ducks go down to Los Angeles November 11th, but it is their trips to Tempe and Berkeley, followed by a home game with UCLA, that Oregon has to survive to prove they deserve to break into the top 10. Oklahoma (2-1) only dropped two spots to No.17 and looks like they can make this year’s Red River Shootout much closer than last year’s 45-12 wipeout.

Army almost had the win Saturday night against Texas A&M, but a dubious play call kept the Cadets from beating a BCS-aligned opponent for the first time since 1997 (when they won at home against Rutgers 37-35). With a 28-24 lead and the ball on their own 31 with 2:58 left in the game, the Aggies went for it on fourth-and-one, only to lose four yards and give it up deep in their own territory. What was head coach Dennis Franchione thinking? Wait, it gets better… Army drove it all the way down to the A&M two yard line with 0:13 left, then called their last timeout. To the amazement of anyone watching ESPN 2 at around 12:37am (EST), the ensuing play was an off-tackle run that was stopped inbounds for a loss of four. The clock ran out and the Aggie faithful breathed a deep sigh of relief. What could Bobby Ross have been thinking? Was there some kind of contagion in the Alamodome making coaches try their hardest to give up the imminent victory? I mean, really…should these kids give it their best effort all night only so they can then watch their leaders stink the joint up by vacating all logic with such pivotal calls when any 12-year old could have made the right choice(s)?

Chalk another win up for those pesky Division I-AA teams against their big brothers in Division I-A. Southern Illinois took Indiana to the woodshed in their 35-28 win at Bloomington. It was the fifth win this season for the smaller upstarts, with Montana State (19-10 over Colorado), Portland State (17-6 win over New Mexico), Richmond (13-0 over Duke) and New Hampshire (34-17 over Northwestern) also earning impressive road victories this year. South Carolina barely escaped Wofford 27-20, and Furman had a 35-31 lead on UNC with 12 minutes left before falling 45-35. With only two wins all of last year against I-As (in 50-plus games), the lesser division has 77 chance this year to upend the bigger schools due to the I-A’s expanded 12-game schedule. I have personally been told by major sports writers that these games are a waste of everyone’s time and that they have no place in “serious college football”. But as long as the I-AAs continue to provide competitive efforts and upset results, I will continue to support their right to “play up” so they can prove the worth of their programs and/or division.


Lagniappe

Navy’s 37-9 road win at Stanford didn’t surprise many who already know how consistent the Midshipmen have become since 2004 (29-11). But with Stanford having the toughest schedule in all of I-A (see our 2006 SOS listings), no victories yet (0-3), and the meat of their slate about to happen, it looks like a long year for Walt Harris & Co. out there in Palo Alto…Southern Cal’s 28-10 win over a revitalized Nebraska program was their 28th consecutive home win and their 36th win in the last 37 games. The Trojans seem to have a chip on their shoulders after last season’s 41-38 Rose Bowl (and BCS national championship) loss, and their new-look backfield and secondary are showing no signs of weakness…N.C. State’s 37-17 road loss in Hattiesburg leaves them 1-2 and nowhere near looking like a team that can even challenge the upcoming ACC teams they soon meet (BC and FSU in their next two games)…From the “whatever happened to that guy” files: Ty Willingham got the magic working again in Spokane as the Huskies beat Fresno State 21-20. Washington third-string DE Caesar Rayford’s block of what seemed like the tying Bulldog score with 4:30 remaining proved to supply Willingham’s most-recent vindication…Drew Stanton had 105 rushing yards and went 16-of-25 for 198 passing yards to lead his Spartans over the Panthers in Pittsburgh. Michigan State (3-0) now gets Notre Dame at home. They are 7-2 against the Irish as of late, but between 1969 and 1994, they were 3-23. The visiting team has won the last five in the ND-MSU series…TCU held the powerful Texas Tech “Air Raid” passing game to a measly 204 yards as they won 12-3 in Fort Worth and stretch the nation’s best winning streak to 13 games. For what many thought would be an offensive showcase, both defenses looked solid in containing their foes’ lethal ball-moving machines. Tech hadn’t been held without a TD since Nebraska whomped them 56-3 in 2000 and the Horned Frogs hadn’t failed to score a six-pointer since 1998’s 10-6 loss at SMU. TCU is 4-0 against Big 12 teams since 2005...Temple remains the only team without a TD so far…