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November 14, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 11 awards
What we learned in Week 11
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
The Big Ten title chase is a three-team race. Despite having no championship game, the Big Ten has the best title race. With two games to go, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State are tied. If they finish tied, the way the tiebreaker is set up, the BCS standings will determine which team advances to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin needs a three-way tie or for Michigan State to lose. Ohio State needs Wisconsin to lose. Michigan State needs Ohio State to lose. They all have tough games remaining. Anything can happen in the next two weeks.
Oregon's offense can be slowed after all. Cal proved that Saturday night. The Bears held Oregon to just two touchdowns in a 15-13 loss. Oregon had scored more than 40 points in every game, but the Ducks struggled against a Cal defense that had been carved up by Nevada, USC and Oregon State. Of course, those games were away from home for Cal, which is a much better team at home. Cal's performance showed that Oregon is vulnerable. At least, that's the way it seems. Of course, each of the past four national champions all had games they either lost or were fortunate to win, so the Ducks might just be right on track for the BCS title game.
Auburn should be No. 1. The Tigers have marched to an 11-0 record that has featured victories over Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. And a game awaits at Alabama. Auburn is headed to the SEC title game for the first time since 2004 following an impressive 49-31 win over Georgia. Couple Auburn's dominance with top-ranked Oregon's struggles in a 15-13 victory over Cal, and it's easy to see that Auburn should be the nation's No. 1 squad.
The best one-loss team is ? I am not sure. The best one-loss team may have a chance to advance to the BCS title game if chaos ensues in the closing weeks of the season. The debate rages among LSU, Stanford, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Michigan State. I am inclined to say that LSU is the best. The Tigers' resume includes victories over the likes of North Carolina, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida and Alabama. No other one-loss team has a more impressive collection of triumphs. And LSU will have another chance to add a big feather to its cap when it plays at Arkansas to close the regular season.
This might be a historic season and not in a good way. Only one team in the BCS era has gone undefeated in the regular season one year and missed a bowl game the next. That was Tulane in 1998, a team that went to the Liberty Bowl and lost its coach (Tommy Bowden). Texas and Cincinnati could triple that number. The Longhorns and Bearcats weren't favorites to win Saturday, but the ways they lost their sixth games of the season were simply demoralizing. For the second week in a row, Texas waited until the fourth quarter to score its only (meaningless) touchdowns of the day, against Oklahoma State. If Texas can beat Florida Atlantic at home next week -- yes, that's an if game at this point -- the Longhorns will need to beat Texas A&M in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible. Meanwhile, first-year coach Butch Jones looks like Cincinnati's version of Steve Kragthorpe. West Virginia had lost two in a row but jumped out to a 30-0 first-half lead on the Bearcats; it was the Bearcats' third consecutive loss and the second one in which they were routed. In a conference no one seems to want to win, Cincinnati has established itself as a bottom-feeder. Both teams are falling apart at unprecedented levels.
Tennessee may have found a quarterback. I say "may have" because freshman Tyler Bray, a four-star quarterback whose only other offers were from Fresno State and San Diego State, has put up big numbers against the likes of Memphis and Ole Miss. Bray looked good for Tennessee in the second half of a loss to South Carolina, then started and threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns against Memphis. Saturday, Bray threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns against Ole Miss. Tennessee isn't that good, yet the Vols have a chance to go 4-0 in November and reach a bowl. If that happens, Bray will have been a big reason.
Mike Gundy deserves mention for coach of the year. Oklahoma State was picked to finish fifth or sixth in the Big 12 South in most preseason projections. Instead, the Cowboys (9-1) are in excellent shape to win the division. The Cowboys suffered heavy personnel losses but actually are better than they were last season, when they went into the season as dark-horse national title contenders. The key move for Gundy -- who hasn't always acted like a head coach -- was turning over play-calling duties to Dana Holgorsen, a former Mike Leach assistant. Working with a new starting quarterback and a revamped line and receiving corps, Holgorsen has the Cowboys averaging 45.0 points and a nation's-leading 547.5 yards per game. Oklahoma State plays host to Oklahoma on Nov. 27, and it's likely the Big 12 South crown will be on the line. It's one thing to win big when you're expected to, which can be difficult. But Gundy's work with a team expected to be mediocre deserves notice.
This has become a season to forget for Iowa. This looked as if it was going to be a special season for Iowa. The Hawkeyes looked to have just one tough road game (Arizona), and the toughest Big Ten competition had to visit Iowa City (Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State). Talk of a national title run was legitimate. Alas, then the season started. That one tough road game at Arizona ended up being a loss. While the Hawkeyes handled Penn State, Wisconsin came in and beat the Hawkeyes. Then came Saturday's loss at Northwestern, a game the Hawkeyes had in hand in the fourth quarter. Next week is a visit from Ohio State, which has everything (i.e., a Big Ten title and a possible Rose Bowl berth) to play for. It's not hard to see this Iowa team finishing 8-4. The biggest problem is an unimaginative offense; the Hawkeyes never seem to do anything surprising on that side of the ball. The defense has had its share of bad moments, too, and a highly touted front four hasn't been as good as expected. Iowa had hopes of ending the season in the Rose Bowl; instead, it looks as if it will spend the holidays in Tampa or Jacksonville.
Lane Kiffin has USC playing with pride. USC seemingly had little incentive for the last month of the season after losing three times in a four-game stretch. They can't go to a bowl because they are on probation. But instead of going through the motions, USC is playing inspired football. The Trojans rallied for a wild 34-33 win over Arizona State last week and followed that up with an impressive 24-21 triumph at Arizona. USC remains suspect on defense, but sophomore QB Matt Barkley and freshman WR Robert Woods give the offense a solid foundation for the future. Don't be surprised if the Trojans finish 10-3.
We shouldn't have gotten carried away with Utah's fast start. Utah was fifth in the BCS standings after winning its first eight games, but it's apparent now that the Utes' lofty ranking was the product of a weak schedule. If it wasn't already obvious after Utah fell 47-7 at home to TCU last week, the Utes made it abundantly clear Saturday by losing 28-3 at Notre Dame. The Irish had lost two in a row, including a home loss to Tulsa, and were playing without their starting quarterback (Dayne Crist), their leading rusher (Armando Allen), three of their four leading receivers (Theo Riddick, star TE Kyle Rudolph and T.J. Jones), their top defensive lineman (Ian Williams) and a starting linebacker (Carlo Calabrese). Utah has beaten only two teams (Pittsburgh and Air Force) that have winning records. This isn't a top-five team. It might not even be a top-25 team.