Conference Races Come Into Focus; Florida St., North Texas Clinch Titles
by Mike Mitchell
Florida State wrapped up the ACC title and a trip to one of the BCS bowl games by snapping a two-game losing streak to N. C. State with a 50-44 double-overtime victory in Tallahassee.
North Carolina State is the only team in the ACC that has beaten Florida State more than once since the Seminoles joined the conference in 1992. In fact, FSU is 89-6 in ACC play with three of those losses coming against the Wolfpack and two of them to Bobby Bowden's former assistant, Chuck Amato, since he took over as head coach at NCSU in 2000.
Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson have each defeated Florida State once. The Cavaliers were the first to do it back in 1995. The Tar Heels turned the trick in 2001. Clemson did it last week.
Miami ended a two-game skid with a 17-10 squeaker over Syracuse that wasn't settled until Orangeman quarterback R. J. Anderson's pass was batted away in the end zone with 52 seconds remaining. The win gives the Hurricanes new life in their hunt for the Big East title, courtesy of West Virginia's 52-31 win over Pittsburgh Saturday night in the Backyard Brawl.
Miami, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all have 4-1 conference marks.
Ohio State and Michigan will play for Big 10 title. The Buckeyes once again turned "Luckeyes" as they edged Purdue in overtime, 16-13. Ohio State converted the game-winning field goal on the opening possession of overtime after having a field goal attempt blocked at the end of regulation. Purdue's field goal attempt to tie it on their overtime possession sailed just left of the upright.
Michigan stayed in the hunt with a 41-10 thrashing of Northwestern.
Kansas State walloped Nebraska, 38-9, for its first victory in Lincoln since 1968 and handed the 'Huskers their worst home loss since a 31-0 setback to Missouri on Nov. 1, 1958. Kansas State will win the Big 12 North IF they beat Missouri at home next Saturday. But IF Missouri beats the Wildcats and Iowa State in their season finale, the Tigers would claim the division crown.
Oklahoma won the Big 12 South with a 41-3 victory over Baylor and clinched a berth in the conference championship for the third time in the last four years.
When TCU and Southern Miss meet in Hattiesburg on Thursday, the CUSA title will be on the line. The Horned Frogs routed Cincinnati, 43-10, on Saturday. The Golden Eagles took care of Tulane, 28-14. Each team is undefeated in conference play heading into that game. No other CUSA team has fewer than two league losses.
Miami, Ohio routed Marshall 45-6 last Wednesday night to clinch its first-ever MAC East Division title. The RedHawks' ninth straight win kept them on course for their first conference championship since 1986.
Marshall had won every east divisional crown since joining the league in 1997 when it moved up from 1-AA. The Thundering Herd had also claimed five of the last six conference championships.
The MAC West could be headed toward a Bowling Green-Toledo showdown on Nov. 28. The Falcons have to get past Ball State and the Rockets need to beat Western Michigan next week to make it happen.
In Bowling Green's 42-33 win over Kent State on Saturday, the two teams combined for 1,153 yards. Falcon QB Josh Harris, and Golden Flashes quarterback Joshua Cribbs accounted for 838 of those yards. Harris passed for 311 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for 80 yards and two more scores. Cribbs passed for 241 yards and 1 touchdown and ran for 206 yards and another score.
Toledo kept their conference title hopes afloat with a 49-30 win over Northern Illinois.
The Mountain West has come down to Utah or New Mexico, and it's Utah's to lose. The Utes scored a 47-17 triumph over Wyoming on Saturday while New Mexico dismissed Air Force, 24-12. If Utah beats rival BYU in Provo next week, they will claim the conference champion's Liberty Bowl berth. However, if BYU upsets Utah, the Lobos can claim the title with a win at Wyoming.
USC controls its destiny in the PAC-10 as they improved to 5-1 in the conference with a 45-0 destruction of Arizona. Washington State, which gave Arizona State a 34-19 drubbing, also has just one conference loss but was ripped 43-16 by Southern California in their head-to-head meeting on November 1. The Trojans still have two conference games remaining, both at home, against UCLA and Oregon State. Washington State finishes its season at Washington next Saturday in the Apple Cup rivalry.
Florida wrapped up its SEC slate with a 6-2 conference mark. The Gators topped South Carolina, 24-22, when the Gamecocks' 2-point conversion try failed by inches in the fourth quarter.
Georgia kept pace by snapping a five-game home-field losing streak to Auburn with a 26-7 win over the Tigers. And Tennessee breezed to a 59-21 win over Mississippi State.
If Florida, Georgia and Tennessee should all finish tied with 6-2 conference marks, the newly-adopted SEC tie-breaker rule would come into effect and that currently gives Georgia the advantage. That rule, which I also highlighted in my Pre-Game report, reads as follows:
"In the event of a three-way tie, the highest team in the BCS standings would represent the East, with one caveat. If the top two teams are within five places of each other in the BCS, the head-to-head winner would go to the title game."
Head-to-head tie-breakers don't work in this case because each team has beaten one of the other two. Florida beat Georgia, Georgia downed Tennessee and Tennessee knocked off Florida.
Georgia hosts Kentucky for its final conference game next Saturday. The Vols have games remaining with Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Mississippi and LSU are the only teams left standing in the SEC West. Auburn was eliminated from the division title chase with its loss to Georgia.
Ole Miss was idle this past weekend while LSU rocked Alabama, 27-3.
The Rebels are the only team with an unblemished record in SEC play and host the 5-1 Tigers in Oxford next Saturday. If Ole Miss wins, the division title is theirs regardless of what happens in their regular season finale with Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl the following week. But if LSU emerges victorious, the Tigers will still have to repel Arkansas on November 28 in Baton Rouge to advance to the conference title game.
North Texas clinched its third straight Sun Belt title by wiping out Arkansas State, 58-14, and is headed back to the New Orleans Bowl. The Mean Green is now 17-1 in conference play during the three-year history of the league, winning 17 in-a-row since dropping its inaugural conference game in 2001 to Louisiana-Monroe.
Boise State is the only team with a perfect conference record in the WAC. The Broncos defeated UTEP, 51-21, to improve to 5-0 in the league and 9-1 over-all. Hawaii dropped off the pace when the Warriors fell to Nevada, 24-14. But Fresno State is still within striking distance with a 5-1 record in WAC play and will host the Broncos in the valley on Friday. The Bulldogs were easy 41-7 winners over San Jose State on Saturday.
Connecticut finished their season as kings of the Independent programs, finishing 9-3 with a 51-17 destruction of Wake Forest.
Akron, La.-Lafayette and Minnesota also played their final regular season games on Saturday.
In other games:
Texas quarterback Chance Mock hit B. J. Johnson with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left and Texas Tech missed a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Longhorns the 43-40 victory.
Virginia Tech squandered a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead but ultimately survived Temple, 24-23, in overtime when the Owls' extra point attempt went wide left. It was Temple's third overtime loss this season, having also failed in extra periods against Cincinnati and 1-AA Villanova.
Notre Dame has its first two-game winning streak of the season after a 33-14 defeat of BYU.
This Too Shall Pass: Vanderbilt halted its losing streak to SEC opponents at 23 games by upending Kentucky, 28-17. It is only the ninth conference game the Commodores have won in nearly eleven full seasons, and five of those have come against Kentucky.
"I'm Taking What They're Givin' 'Cause I'm Workin' For A Livin'': It took overtime to settle four games on Saturday. In addition to Ohio State's win over Purdue, Virginia Tech's win over Temple, and Florida State's win over N.C. State, there was Louisiana-Lafayette's wild 57-51 win in four overtimes against Sun Belt foe Middle Tennessee. The win was the fourth in the last five games for the Ragin' Cajuns after starting the year by dropping their first seven.
Trailing 20-10 at the end of the third quarter, the Blue Raiders outscored Louisiana-Lafayette 24-14 as the teams combined to score 38 points in the final period, with the Ragin' Cajuns needing a touchdown with 26 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime tied at 34. The two teams tacked on another 40 total points in the four overtime periods before Louisiana-Lafayette finally prevailed.
Still Streaking: Army has lost 13 straight after its 34-14 loss to Houston.
SMU has lost 11 consecutive games after falling 41-20 to Rice.
Baylor fell to 5-58 lifetime in the Big 12 with its 41-3 loss to Oklahoma.
And They Were Happy Once More: Penn State snapped its six-game losing streak with a 52-7 rout of Indiana. The win improved Joe Paterno's coaching record to 339-108-3 in 38 seasons at Penn State.
Bobby Bowden maintained his lead over Paterno with FSU's win over N.C. State. Bowden's career mark is 341-98-4 in 38 seasons, 28 at Florida State.
Tracking the new coaches: There were eighteen head coaching changes in the off-season and all of them have at least one win this year. But there have been five coaching changes made since the season began.
One of those is working out very well as Eastern Michigan beat Ball State, 34-14, to make interim coach Al Lavan 2-0 since taking over for the fired Jeff Woodruff.
Mike Hankwitz is 1-5 with Arizona following the Wildcats' 45-0 loss to USC.
Ted Roof is 1-3 at Duke after the Blue Devils were trashed 40-7 by Clemson.
John Mumford is 0-5 with Army after the Cadets lost 34-14 to Houston.
Alan Gooch will see his first action as interim coach of UCF on Wednesday when the Golden Knights host Marshall.