Rushing The Field, Week 8.

This is a picture from a game most of you likely did not get to watch if you were not on the West Coast; Cal-UCLA was the best game out there not televised nationally today (the overall honor must go to Auburn-LSU for the day, and I’m still pretty sure Auburn got jobbed.) Anyway…

Early Games – I thought the Big Ten Network was supposed to fix this shit, no longer leaving us with two early in-conference games of dubious quality. Oh well, ESPN’s networks get saddled with Penn State-Indiana (which was closer than anyone expected) and Iowa-Purdue (which was as ugly for the Hawkeyes as I’d been expecting.)  The Big Ten Network truly saved its dregs, as Minnesota was upset by I-AA North Dakota State.  As for the Hawkeyes, I know Kirk Ferentz will likely be back next season, but I can’t explain why with an offense that manages to shit the bed weekly.  Penn State will be deadly once they have an actual quarterback under center in 2008, and Indiana is climbing its way out of irrelevancy in college football. Keeping it close against JoePa is a start.

Oklahoma is entirely capable of taking days off against weaker Big 12 competition, and for a half, it looked like it would cost them a chance at the BCS championship.  Iowa State dominated that first half, yet could not make points out of turnovers and defensive stops. The Sooners then managed to play just well enough to win in the second half. If Oklahoma can’t be consistent against the worst team in the conference, it will face a battle against the North division champion, whether that is a Kansas team that hasn’t played anyone or a Missouri team hell bent on vengeance.

Vols fans should be calling for Phil Fulmer’s head on a spike. I don’t doubt that Nick Saban enjoyed running up the score to 41-17 in Bryant-Denny Stadium, as the schizophrenia that consumes the Knoxville squad returned for yet another Saturday.

All you need to know about Texas heading to Waco to play Baylor is that they avoided the Versus Curse this week.

The Head Ball Coach still has a decrepit offense to overcome in Columbia, via a loss to Vanderbilt that the Commodores appeared only too eager to give away come the second half after they got out to a 17-0 lead. Spurrier isn’t able to Fun ‘n Gun any more because he doesn’t have the talent on that side of the ball to pull it off (also, most of the other programs in the SEC and their coaches have caught up to him and his methods.)

Afternoon Games – Cal’s annual slide continues unimpeded in what was the best game of the afternoon that no one outside the West Coast saw.  Nate Longshore threw three picks with his touchdown scores, including a pick six late in the fourth quarter that neutralized an attempt at a late comeback. Khalil Bell is a bruiser at RB for the Bruins, the defense is as powerful as advertised when it needs to clamp down, and I now have to consider the possibility that Karl Dorrell may actually survive as coach if he keeps his perch with the Bruins atop the conference. If he wants to do so, then he must commit to Pat Cowan as his quarterback — the UCLA offense responds better with Cowan taking the snaps than it does Ben Olson; this was clear to most observers last year. Cowan is not going to dazzle with stellar numbers; he didn’t even hit 200 yards throwing.  He won’t throw the game away and will make some plays by evading sacks every now and then.

Mark Sanchez should be starting the rest of the year for the Trojans, no matter how quickly John David Booty’s finger heals. The difference in pass quality is not remarkable enough to insert Booty back in the line-up (although Sanchez should have to fight for that job next year with Mitch Mustain). Southern Cal can finagle its way back into Rose Bowl talk if Sanchez continues to develop a rapport with his receivers. Of course, this is easy to write after USC destroyed an absolutely hapless Notre Dame in South Bend. Touchdown Jesus weeps on a daily basis — and not only due to those hideous throwbacks the Irish sported.

Ohio State let the Spartans back in for a bit, but never broke, and this may just be enough to allow the Buckeyes to reach another BCS title game where they will be over-matched regardless if their opponent comes from the SEC, Pac-10, or Big 12.

Bill Callahan just keeps digging the grave deeper with his bad loss to a one-dimensional Texas A&M team in what was frequently derided as the “Buyout Bowl” in Lincoln.  The West Coast offense looks rather ancient when looking at what it produces against the spread-happy competition, and it doesn’t help matters when the defensive leaks like a sieve.

Somehow, the scheduling gods should figure out that having Cal-UCLA, MSU-OSU, and Miami-FSU on against each other by regional dictat on ABC is a bad idea. I would have liked to have seen Miami come back against the Seminoles instead of watching the highlights. Someone dropped an East Coast Karl Dorrell joke with regard to Randy Shannon, but it’s only his first year, and if he can get the offense to try and click late like that, he’ll thrive in Coral Gables by winning despite Kyle Wright.

Same deal goes for Texas Tech-Mizzou, although the score and stats say the Dread Pirate Leach and First Mate Harrell were beaten at their own game by Chase Daniel, who should at least merit a Heisman footnote.

Florida, despite having two losses, will likely still be the team to make it out of the SEC East, and if that is the case, Louisiana State is good and fucked. The Gators pulled away late from a Kentucky team depleted by injury and possibly hungover from last week’s work against LSU. Having Andre Caldwell back on the field makes a sizeable difference in the Gator offense (most entertaining to see him Supermanning dat ho when catching a touchdown pass). I shudder to think what the Gators will be capable of when Emmanuel Moody is able to play next year (gee, what can Urban do with an actual running back, if he needs it?) and Georgia may as well concede that it will be a severe dog heading into the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville next week (pun not intended.)

Late Games – I still can’t tell you whether Kansas is for real or not until they play a team from the Big 12 South that isn’t Baylor.  Colorado seemed ready to pounce and take advantage of the Jayhawks’ inability to score in the first half, but the Buffaloes are still a year away from putting anything together with consistency.

The same assessment must go for Illinois, as Ron Zook needs to figure out how to get his team to finish games and who will lead them when they do finish them. Juice Williams has more talent, but Eddie McGee’s speed is better. This was a Michigan team without Mike Hart and vacillating between Chad Henne and Ryan Mallett, one Illinois, if playing on the same page, can take down with the option and spread attacks that give the Wolverines fits. One more year of experience for either Williams or McGee and the Wolverines will be losing to the Illini unless they hire a D-coordinator who has joined the 21st century.

Sadly, Oregon’s domination against Washington did not make it to Fox Sports here or Versus; that would have been an instructive game to see how the Ducks responded to have some many crucial players hurt. They’ve done well enough to beat Washington, but whether it will apply to USC in their next game is still up for debate. If Oregon is able to beat the Trojans (and I believe the game is a home game for the Ducks), they should be more than capable of making a BCS run.

Finally, I cannot state enough that with the way LSU is playing right now, they will lose to Florida in an SEC championship game.  Auburn played a see-saw game with LSU down to the wire, and some questionable flagging in LSU’s favor helped — but you cannot deny how good the play was with 11 seconds left for the winning touchdown pass.  However, an aspiring national champion can’t keep skating like that.

Photo: AP/Richard Vogel

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