by Mike Mitchell
Virginia and Michigan knocked Florida State and Penn State, respectively, from the unbeaten ranks and several games went down-to-the-wire on a Saturday filled with fantastic finishes topped by USC-Notre Dame.
The Trojans and Irish staged a classic battle in South Bend and USC once again proved their resiliency with a 34-31 last-second victory. Matt Leinart, initially stacked up short of the goal-line, rolled off the pile and with a friendly shove from teammate Reggie Bush, fell into the endzone for the game-winner with 3 ticks left on the clock.
Notre Dame had taken a 31-28 lead with only 2:04 left when Brady Quinn scored on a 5-yard scramble. The Irish appeared to have won the game when USC was stuck with a fourth-and-nine at their own 26 on the ensuing possession. Instead, the Trojans converted a 61-yard pass and run to the Notre Dame 13. Moments later, Leinart took off for the goal-line but was rocked on a vicious hit inches from paydirt and the clock ticked down to :00. But the ball had gone out of bounds on the hit and the clock was reset to :07.
USC shunned the option of forcing overtime with a game-tying field goal and, with coach Pete Carroll feigning instructions for Leinart to spike the ball, his battered QB - with an assist from Bush - found the endzone.
The win was USC's fourth straight in the series and extended the Trojans' over-all winning streak to 28 games.
Michigan ended Penn State's unbeaten season on a 4th-down 10-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham on the last play of the game for the wild 27-25 win in Ann Arbor. Just 53 seconds earlier, Penn State had taken the 25-21 lead on QB Michael Robinson's 3-yard run. And that score came less than three minutes after Michigan had broken an 18-18 tie on Garret Rivas' 47-yard field goal.
Florida State's undefeated season ended quite differently. The Seminoles self-destructed at Virginia and fell behind 26-10. An attempted rally fell short when the Cavaliers intercepted an FSU pass in Seminole territory with 50 seconds remaining. UVa broke a two-game ACC losing streak with the resulting 26-21 win, only their second-ever against Florida State.
As for the day's other Houdini-like escapes, Wisconsin topped Minnesota 38-34 when the Badgers recovered a blocked punt in the endzone with 30 seconds left; Northwestern coughed up a 19-point halftime lead to fall behind Purdue and then recovered for the 34-29 win on a touchdown with 1:50 remaining in the game; West Virginia made up a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to take Louisville to triple-overtime where the Mountaineers prevailed 46-44 when the Cards failed to convert a two-point conversion; Boston College escaped Wake Forest 35-30 on a touchdown pass with 1:18 left in the game; Alabama needed a 31-yard field goal as time expired for a 13-10 win at Ole Miss; and UCLA stormed from 17 points down in the fourth quarter to win 44-41 in overtime at Washington State and move into a tie with USC for first place in the PAC-10.
As they say on the overnight infomercials, "But wait, that's not all."
With star QB Brad Smith on the bench with a concussion, Missouri scored the last 10 points in regulation against Iowa State and beat the Cyclones 27-24 in overtime; Ohio State scored 14 points in the final five minutes to turn a 24-21 deficit into a 35-24 win over visiting Michigan State; UAB missed a 51-yard field goal on the game's final play to lose 20-19 at Marshall. Stanford stopped Arizona's last-ditch drive to preserve a 20-16 victory.
There were other big games with close, but less dramatic, outcomes.
LSU beat Florida 21-17 but the Tigers never seemed seriously threatened despite five turnovers and the commission of a billion penalties; Nebraska lost the first quarter but won the battle at Baylor 23-14; Oregon State scored the game-winning touchdown with 6:41 to play as the Beavers sent California to their second straight defeat, 23-20; and Navy gave up a late score to Kent State but prevailed 34-31.
Among the nation's other top-ranked teams:
Texas romped over Colorado 42-17; Texas Tech kept pace with the Longhorns in the Big 12 south standings (6-0, 3-0) by obliterating Kansas State 59-20 behind 643 passing yards and 5 TD's for Craig Hodges.
Georgia downed Vanderbilt 34-17 to stay unbeaten and atop the SEC east. With the Gators loss at LSU, every other team in their division already has at least two conference losses.
Auburn stayed unbeaten in SEC play with a 34-17 win over Arkansas. The Tigers and Alabama are the only teams in the west division that are undefeated in conference play.
In other conferences:
Louisiana-Monroe took control of the Sun Belt as the Indians improved to 3-0 in conference play with a 27-3 thrashing of Troy. The Trojans entered the game as the only other Sun Belt team that had yet to lose a conference match.
Nevada beat Louisiana Tech 37-27 in a key matchup between two teams that had not lost in WAC play. Boise State and Fresno State also remained unbeaten in the conference as the Broncos walloped San Jose State 38-21 and the Bulldogs clobbered Utah State 53-21.
Bowling Green's 27-7 win over Buffalo made the Falcons 3-0 in the MAC east division. Everyone else in their division has at least two conference losses after Ohio fell 37-10 at Central Michigan and Akron was humbled 51-23 at Miami (Ohio).
In the MAC west, Toledo is 3-0 following a 34-14 win at Ball State. With Northern Illinois' 24-8 home win over Eastern Michigan, the Rockets closest challengers are Central Michigan at 3-1 and Northern Illinois at 2-1.
Rutgers' 31-9 win over Syracuse and Pittsburgh's 31-17 defeat of South Florida kept the Scarlet Knights and Panthers within a game of Big East leader West Virginia. Cincinnati's surprising 28-17 win over Connecticut leaves the Bearcats and Huskies at 1-1 in conference play along with the Bulls. Louisville fell to 0-2 in the Big East while Syracuse brings up the rear at 0-3.
BYU handed Colorado State its first Mountain West conference loss, 24-14. That leaves newcomer TCU all alone in first place with a 4-0 league record. The Horned Frogs went out-of-conference on Saturday to deal Army its 11th straight loss, 38-17. The Rams, however, still have second place all to themselves thanks to New Mexico's 27-24 win at Wyoming.
Tulane Nomads: Friday night, UTEP scored the last 21 points of the game to pull away from Tulane for a 45-21 win. Displaced from their New Orleans campus and the Superdome that served as their home stadium, the game took place in Ruston on Louisiana Tech's home field. Tulane had already played home games in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
This was expected to be a CUSA west division title-challenging season, but those expectations took a hit with their latest loss as Tulane fell to 2-3 over-all, 1-2 in the conference. UTEP is in their first season in CUSA and a west division rival of the Green Wave. The Miners upped their record to 4-1 over-all, 2-1 in CUSA.
Homefield advantage? Hogwash! North Carolina State has lost all three of its' home games against 1-A teams after Thursday night's 31-10 drubbing at the hands of Clemson. For the Tigers, it was the first time this season that the final margin was more than 6 points.
The Wolfpack offense looked out-of-sync and lethargic, failed to take advantage of Clemson errors and hung the defense out to dry.
Clemson played like a team desperate to resurrect its season after losing three close games in-a-row. Two weeks ago, the Tigers fell in the waning seconds to Wake Forest. That heartbreaking defeat came on the heels of two consecutive overtime losses to Miami and Boston College. The Tigers opened the season with two comeback wins over Texas A&M and Maryland. The victory only evens the Tigers' record at 3-3 and improves them to 2-3 in the conference.
N.C. State looked like a team ready for the season to end. The Wolfpack dropped to 2-3 over-all, 1-3 in the ACC.
Hi Prosperity! BANG! On Thursday night, Louisiana-Lafayette stared prosperity in the face and promptly shot it. Instead of bagging their first conference win of the season and second over-all, the Ragin' Cajuns blew leads of 16-0 in the first-half and 29-14 in the fourth quarter to end up losing 39-36 at Arkansas State.
The Indians took a 36-29 lead with over 7 minutes still left in the game. UL-Lafayette fought back to tie the game with 52 seconds remaining in regulation only to lose when Arkansas State kicked the game-winning 35-yard field goal as time expired.
Missed It By That Much: New Mexico upset Wyoming 27-24 when a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal by the Cowboys went over, but not inside of, the left upright with three minutes left in the contest.
All Good Things Must Come To An End: Central Florida ended a 17-game losing streak with a home win over Marshall 3 weeks ago, then embarked on a three-game winning streak. That string ended with a 52-31 drubbing at Southern Miss on Saturday. Still, the Golden Knights are one of four teams that top CUSA's east division with 2-1 records. Southern Miss, East Carolina and Marshall are the others.
Still Perfect, One Way Or the Other: With Florida State and Penn State dropping off the list, seven teams remain unbeaten: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Georgia, UCLA, Texas Tech, and Alabama.
All five teams that were winless heading into the weekend stayed that way: Army, Buffalo, New Mexico State, Rice and Temple.
1-AA Schools Strike Out: For the first time this year, no games were played between 1-AA schools and their higher-classified brethren over the weekend. For the season, fifty such games have taken place and the 1-A teams are 48-2. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, 1-A teams have won 160-of-178 such games or 89.99 percent.
Streaks: USC extended the nation's longest winning streak to 28 with the 34-31 win at Notre Dame. They have now won 39 of their last 40 games. USC also owns streaks of 23 straight home wins and 18 consecutive PAC-10 victories. The 28-game over-all winning streak is the longest in PAC-10 history, breaking their own record of 25 games set in 1931-1933.
Texas has won 13 straight games.
Virginia Tech has 14 consecutive regular season wins.
Boise State owns nation-leading streaks of 28 straight home wins and 28 straight conference victories after their 38-21 home win against San Jose State.
Iowa has 22 straight home wins after knocking off Indiana 38-21.
Army has dropped 11 straight after falling at TCU 38-17. It was Army's win over Cincinnati on October 9th last year that ended the Black Knight's 19-game losing streak and handed the losing streak honors over to Central Florida. Ironically, when UCF ended its 17-game losing streak earlier this season, Army re-inherited the ubiquitous honors.
Rice lost its 11th straight game, 41-21, to Tulsa.
New Coaches: The 2005 season began with 23 coaching changes.
San Jose State has not beaten a 1-A team yet. New Mexico State is still looking for its first win over anybody under Hal Mumme.
Here is how each has fared, by order of success:
LSU, 4-1 under Les Miles, beat Florida 21-17.
Florida, 5-2 under Urban Meyer, lost at LSU 21-17.
Indiana, 4-2 under Terry Hoeppner, lost at Iowa 38-21.
Notre Dame, 4-2 under Charlie Weis, lost to USC 34-31.
Stanford, 3-2 under Walt Harris, won at Arizona 20-16.
BYU, 3-3 under Bronco Mendenhall, beat Colorado State 24-24.
East Carolina, 3-3 under Skip Holtz, won at SMU 24-17.
Marshall, 3-3 under Mark Snyder, beat UAB 20-19.
Miami, O., 3-3 under Shane Montgomery, beat Akron 51-23.
Okla. St, 3-3 under Mike Gundy, lost at Texas A&M 62-23.
South Carolina, 3-3 under Steve Spurrier, was idle.
Western Mich., 3-3 under Bill Cubit, was idle.
Pittsburgh, 3-4 under Dave Wannstedt, beat South Florida 31-17.
Utah, 3-4 under Kyle Whittingham, lost to San Diego State, 28-19.
Utah State, 2-3 under Brent Guy, lost at Fresno State 53-21.
Illinois, 2-4 under Ron Zook, was idle.
Mississippi, 2-4 under Ed Orgeron, lost to Alabama 13-10.
Ohio, 2-4 under Frank Solich, lost at Central Michigan 37-10.
Nevada-Las Vegas, 2-5 under Mike Sanford, lost at Air Force 42-7.
San Jose St., 1-5 under Dick Tomey, lost at Boise State 38-21.
Syracuse, 1-5 under Greg Robinson, lost to Rutgers 31-9.
Washington, 1-5 under Ty Willingham, lost at Oregon 45-21.
New Mexico St., 0-7 under Hal Mumme, lost at Hawaii 49-28.