— So, which rematch do you prefer? LSU-Alabama (from Nov. 5)? LSU-Oregon (from Sept. 3)? LSU-Oklahoma (from the 2004 Sugar Bowl)? Oh, and LSU might concern itself with Arkansas (and the SEC championship game) before thinking about a rematch? Right. Got it. We were looking ahead.
No disrespect to Saturday’s games, which have five dominant themes (at least) to keep us all very busy.
1. The other unbeaten
Alabama? Oregon? Oklahoma?
The BCS title game should be LSU against ...
Let's face it, after No. 2 Oklahoma State's stunning double overtime loss at Iowa State on Friday night, no one is saying much about that other unbeaten — yep, there is one — the free-wheeling No. 11-ranked Houston Cougars (10-0) of Conference USA.
Truthfully, since the breakup of the old Southwest Conference, Houston has been the state’s stepchild program, even though the Cougars definitely have tradition. Did you know that Houston once beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and finished as the nation’s No. 5-ranked team? Do you remember that Houston once had a Heisman Trophy winner (Andre Ware in 1989)?
But, Houston, you definitely have a perception problem.
There’s always a pocket of support for the Little Guy in college football. If Boise State was in this position, we’d be saying, “Why not Boise?’’ If TCU was in this position, we’d be saying, “Why not TCU?’’
Why not Houston?
It’s not “tiny’’ Houston. We are, after all, talking about the nation’s fourth-largest city. But it’s mostly a pro town. It’s definitely a Longhorn/Aggie state. So the Cougars get lost in all of that. It’s time to notice.
Houston is No. 11 in the BCS standings, one spot behind No. 10 Boise State (8-1), which is still recovering from the shockwaves of its 36-35 home loss against TCU.
Good news for the Cougars: If Houston remains unbeaten, downing Southern Methodist (6-4) on Saturday (ESPN 'GameDay' will be there), then Tulsa (7-3) and likely No. 22 Southern Miss (9-2) in the C-USA title game, it almost certainly will receive the program’s first BCS bowl bid.
Even if Boise State is ranked ahead of Houston in the BCS, unless TCU loses again, the Broncos will not win the Mountain West Conference title. For a non-automatic qualifying league to reach a BCS bowl game, its champion must finish in the top 12 or be in the top 16 and ranked ahead of a conference champion currently aligned with the BCS.
Of course, now the hard part starts for Houston. Its down-the-stretch schedule is difficult. One pratfall and it’s done. The eyes of Texas — and every other state — will finally be peeking at Houston this weekend to pass judgment on the Cougars’ legitimacy.
Should the Cougars be in the national championship hunt? No. C-USA doesn’t have that kind of muscle. Houston beat a name non-conference opponent — downing UCLA 38-34 — but the name carries more weight than the actual strength of the Bruins’ program.
Should the Cougars, who are being courted by the Big East, be in a BCS bowl? If they finish unbeaten, definitely. They have earned that right by winning every game on their schedule. And as late-comers to the party will realize, Houston football is pretty fun.
Everyone knows about sixth-year quarterback Case Keenum, who has 37 touchdown passes, three interceptions and should receive an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Keenum, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after tearing his ACL early in the 2010 season, is the NCAA’s all-time career leader in passing yards (17,537), total offense (18,434), touchdown passes (144) and touchdowns accounted for (166).
Not enough people know about the wide receivers, Patrick Edwards (1,277 receiving yards this season) and Tyron Carrier (293 career receptions and projecting to become the NCAA’s No. 2 all-time pass-catcher).
No one talks about Houston’s offensive line, which is so vital for Keenum’s success. Keenum has been sacked just 11 times this season — on 451 pass attempts.
Houston’s offense averages 54.7 points per game. The all-time record was set by Army in 1944 (56.0 points per game).
That’s plenty to absorb.
Houston is accomplishing some amazing things. It’s not too late to notice.
2. Back where they belong
Welcome back, Wisconsin. It’s nice to see you again, Oregon.
Actually, the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers and No. 4 Oregon Ducks haven’t been anywhere —except well under the national radar.
Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) could have been in prime position to contend for a national championship, had it not been for Hail Mary passes that gave Michigan State and Ohio State improbable victories against the Badgers. If Wisconsin wins out, beating Illinois and Penn State, it will win the Big Ten’s Legends Division.
Oregon (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12), similarly, had high expectations of returning to the BCS championship game, but they were derailed in a 40-27 opening-night loss against LSU. The Ducks were even second-fiddle last week to Stanford and alleged Heisman Trophy front-runner Andrew Luck. Oregon, perhaps reminding everyone they were gunning for their 19th consecutive league victory, throttled the Cardinal 53-30. If Oregon wins out, beating USC and Oregon State, it captures the Pac-12 North Division.
The Badgers and Ducks can reassert their back-to-the-forefront status Saturday.
Wisconsin travels to Illinois (6-4, 2-4), the Big Ten’s Jekyll/Hyde team, which raced to bowl eligibility at 6-0, but has since dropped four straight games. Things are tense in Illini-land. When a reporter asked about coach Ron Zook’s job security, he walked out of his news conference.
Meanwhile, Oregon entertains the No. 18 USC Trojans (8-2, 5-2) in what would’ve normally been a preview of the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. Not this time. USC is ineligible, so the Pac-12 South representative will be Arizona State, UCLA or even Utah. It’s a mess and it could evolve into a real joke if UCLA slips into the conference title game with a losing record (still possible).
Wisconsin and Oregon have something else in common.
Once again, they have legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.
When Wisconsin dropped back-to-back games, Badgers senior quarterback Russell Wilson seemingly was dismissed from the Heisman consciousness. When Oregon lost its opener, people stopped talking about running back LaMichael James, especially after he missed two games due to injury.
Don’t rule them out.
Wilson and James should be playing in the Dec. 3 conference championship games, the last opportunity to make an impression. So will Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, for that matter, as the Cowboys close out with Oklahoma. Luck and Alabama’s Trent Richardson probably will be on the sidelines. Their candidacy can’t be advanced on the day/night when college football’s version of election returns come tumbling in.
James had 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. Overall, even with the missed games, he still has 1,207 rushing yards overall (with a 7.9-yard average) and 12 TDs. Wilson merely leads the nation in passing efficiency, completing 73.4 percent of his attempts with 25 touchdowns and three interceptions.
3. Sooner or later
It’s hard to ignore the drumbeat of Dec. 3, when the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners will travel to Oklahoma State. If Oklahoma wins there, it creates BCS chaos, maybe even thrusting the Sooners back into the national-title hunt.
But let’s not jump too far ahead.
Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) has some issues to address against No. 25 Baylor (6-3, 3-3). The Sooners must play without wide receiver Ryan Broyles, out for the season with a torn ACL. Broyles had 83 catches for 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He also finished with 349 career receptions, setting an all-time record for the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Sooners quarterback Landry Jones must look elsewhere for a primary target, whether it’s Kenny Stills or Jaz Reynolds, a pair of sophomores, or someone else.
Jones will need to prove his mettle, as will the Oklahoma defense, which melted down in that inexplicable 41-38 loss against Texas Tech that might have ruined possibilities of a championship season for the Sooners. Now there’s another test in facing Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is ranked second nationally in total offense.
4. Big East scrum
Maybe you consider it dramatic and fantastic that all eight of the Big East Conference teams can become bowl eligible. The league has just six bowl tie-ins and Notre Dame probably will take one of those slots.
Dramatic? Fantastic? The rest of the nation might use other adjectives.
The Big East doesn’t have any teams in the latest BCS top 25 standings. Yet one of those Big East teams is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl. Meanwhile, Boise State, which saw its mortal-lock unbeaten season go ka-poof on a missed 39-yard field-goal attempt against TCU, checks in at No. 10 in the BCS. Where will the Broncos go bowling? Perhaps Las Vegas.
Heck, even Conference USA has two teams (Houston, Southern Miss) ranked in the BCS Top 25.
Here’s the really funny part. The BCS honchos are considering getting rid of the automatic-qualifying status after the 2013 season, basically making it a free-for-all. The Big East, after the announced defection of Pittsburgh and Syracuse in September, has been scrambling to attract replacement programs to protect that AQ status.
One of the Big East’s targets?
Back to the Big East race.
There could be a five-way tie — everyone at 4-3 in the league — for the Big East title. Here’s how it happens.
Cincinnati (3-1 in the Big East) loses two of its last three (two are on the road, and the Bearcats must play without injured quarterback Zach Collaros).
Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia (all 3-2 in the Big East) each split their final two league games.
Good luck breaking that. And good luck explaining to that college football-watching visitor from Mars why a Big East team deserves to be in a BCS bowl this season.
5. Here come the Commodores
It looks like a ho-hum weekend in the SEC.
No. 13 Georgia should lower the boom on Kentucky to clinch the SEC East.
No. 1 LSU (against Ole Miss) and No. 6 Arkansas (against Mississippi State) are girding for their SEC West showdown on the afternoon after Thanksgiving.
Then there are these “thrillers’’ — Georgia Southern-Alabama, Samford-Auburn, The Citadel-South Carolina and Furman-Florida.
The only real intrigue — and we definitely consider it intrigue — rests with Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) at Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5).
The last time Tennessee began 0-6 in the SEC was, um, never. Likewise, the Volunteers never have lost seven league games in one season.
Vanderbilt can qualify for a bowl game for only the second time since 1982. It has lost 27 of its past 28 meetings against the Vols, but Vanderbilt can prevent Tennessee from becoming bowl eligible this season.
It’s hard to say what would be more pronounced: Tennessee angst or Vanderbilt jubilation. First-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin will not consider it an upset. He isn’t selling the Commodores short in any area. He is changing a culture that was stuck in the mud. He wants to hear about what Vanderbilt football CAN do, not vice versa.
Vanderbilt, in typical Vanderbilt fashion, has been close to some monumental victories. It lost to Arkansas 31-28 in a painful exercise (the Commodores surrendered a two-touchdown lead and missed a late 27-yard field goal that would’ve forced overtime). The Commodores also dropped five-point decisions against Georgia and Florida.
Vols quarterback Tyler Bray, who missed five games with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, should be ready to go. Commodores junior quarterback Jordan Rodgers (kid brother of Aaron) looks like the real thing.
Let’s say Tennessee loses against Vanderbilt. On Nov. 26, the Vols travel to Kentucky, which Tennessee has defeated 26 straight times. Drop that one, too? Not to sound knee-jerk, especially considering the recent absence of Bray, but how does second-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley survive that?
Tennessee at Vanderbilt.
It won’t influence a championship at any level. But it’s really big.