The Ducks came into Santa Clara looking for revenge. Removing any doubt of their playoff worthiness as Kings of The West Coast, Oregon simply bottled up Arizona—claiming another Pac-12 football crown on a rainy Northern California night.
How Ducks Won: UO ran the ball with more effectiveness, especially from the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota finished the game with 313 yards passing and three rushing scores, including two key touchdown runs in the first half. Oregon’s Heisman front runner was looking to tuck and sprint much more often this time around, unlike early October in Eugene when he tallied only 1 yard on the ground versus the ‘Cats and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Scooby Wright.
X-Factor of Game: OLB Tony Washington, Oregon. The Senior from Rancho Cucamonga made up for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he received after a sack on AZ QB Anu Solomon late in the regular season match that may have cost them a close victory. His sack on the aforementioned Solomon in the title game, with 4:03 left in the second quarter for a loss of 6 yards to the Arizona 35, was the signature example of constant pressure applied by Defensive Coordinator Don Pellum’s unit throughout the battle.
Stat of the Contest: After three quarters of play, Arizona only amassed 45rushing yards as a team.
Why It Matters: Besides securing a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff by beating a Top 10 opponent, Oregon put the nation on notice—the Ducks are ready to play physical, championship caliber football versus anyone the committee pits them up against. The defense stifled ‘Zona’s version of the zone read attack crafted by Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, forcing the ‘Cats into 3rd and long situations on a very consistent basis.
Offensively, it wasn’t a perfect outing for UO. With 10:16 left in the second quarter OL Doug Brenner committed a false start on 4th and goal from Arizona’s 1-yard line; another false start by DL Erik Armstead made the chip shot field goal try in wet Levi’s Stadium slightly more slippery, with kicker Aidan Schneider missing a 27-yard attempt.
Despite choppy play at times from the offensive line, Oregon washed over the Wildcats to make a legitimate case for the top overall seed. Depending on how the rest of Championship Weekend pans out, the Ducks might be hitting Bourbon Street instead of going back to Cali for the National Semifinals.
Zany 100-plus-point shootouts. Come-from-behind victories within the last seconds of games. Shockwaves being sent through an entire region due to the resurgence of one state’s major programs. These are some of the many storylines within an exciting—and still fresh—college football season for 2014.
Week 6 saw Arizona State spoil USC’s ascension back to the upper room with their shocking 38-34 win in LA. In Week 7, we were blessed with a game straight from the annals of a Sony Playstation computer code; Baylor’s Bryce Petty put up 510 yards on 55 pass attempts and 6 touchdowns to bring the Bears back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter. This weekend, we will witness the revival of a ’90s superpower rivalry, pitting Notre Dame against Florida State in Tallahassee.
There is plenty to come, but let’s review some of the headlines of what we have seen so far:
Football is back in the state of Mississippi
It was generally acknowledged that the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels would be good this year, especially considering the latter was ranked 18th in the Associated Press Top-25 Poll when they opened their schedule in Atlanta versus Boise State. Even the Bulldogs’ upset win over LSU was not that surprising. And yet, one weekend in the beginning of October changed everything.
Saturday, October 4th will go down in infamy as the day all Magnolia State alums rejoiced; their flagship schools became serious players in college football again. In Starkville, Mississippi State simply out-gunned the Texas A&M offensive machine by a final of 48-31. Then, with all eyes on Oxford, the Rebels got past the proverbial bullies of the conference by defeating Alabama 23-17.
Both teams followed up their Week 6 upsets with strong showings in Week 7. Mississippi State took down the other big school from the Heart of Dixie, and the Rebels sidestepped past the Aggies with ease. Dak Prescott was unflappable versus Auburn despite a few turnovers, finishing with 246 yards passing and 121 yards rushing on the day. The 12th Man was no match for all the momentum Ole Miss carried into College Station; the Rebels forced a pick-six on Aggie quarterback Kenny Hill that put the contest out of reach before halftime.
Ole Miss now sits third in the AP Polls—and Mississippi State is No. 1 in the land. In fact, the Bulldogs are the fastest team to go from unranked to the top of the AP in its total history. The question is, can they stay there? Both schools still have plenty of tough opponents from the SEC West to play. If somehow they can remain in their current positions, this year’s Egg Bowl will have not only conference championship, but national championship implications. As impressive as both squads have performed to date, the notion of this still sounds a little odd.
Big Ten is earning its reputation for “toting the rock”
After Braxton Miller’s preseason injury and Week 2 loss by Michigan State to the Ducks of Oregon, your grandfather’s favorite college football conference looked insignificant in the broad scope of things. Alas, there is still something for him to stick that chin out on: the running game!
As of all games through October 14th, the Big Ten sports three of the top-10 rushing offenses in the country. Wisconsin sits at the top piling up on average 343 yards per game; Nebraska and Indiana are fifth and sixth respectively, each compiling over 300 yards on the ground per contest. You could even attribute Arkansas, the school that rounds out the top-10 within the category, and their success at running the ball to the Big Ten.
Their head coach Bret Bielema has basically taken the formula he learned while steering the ship that Barry Alvarez built with the Badgers to Fayetteville. If you listen in on a televised game featuring the Razorbacks, you’re almost certain to hear a commentator gush at how Arkansas’ O-Line is bigger than any college or pro team’s. Recruiting gargantuan bodies for the trenches has been a long-standing staple of Wisconsin football.
Individually, the conference is highlighted on the ground as well. The top rusher in the nation right now is running back Tevin Coleman of Indiana, but Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is nipping at his heels. Both players have over 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Speedy all-purpose back Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska is fourth with 878 rushing yards; Minnesota’s David Cobb, piling up 819 yards on the ground, is seventh in the country.
Depending on the status of Todd Gurley’s eligibility for Georgia this year, and possible slips in public opinion on high-profile QBs already in contention, the Heisman Trophy winner could very well come from the Big Ten. What would be ironic is if at the same juncture the conference can’t place its eventual champion into a playoff slot.
CFB Playoff will be another case of ‘The Haves and the Have Nots’
The clamor for a solution to “settle it on the field” finally gained steam. Rudy’s proclamation notwithstanding, the powers that be surely assume there will be nothing but approval bestowed upon 2014’s postseason results. We all know that most (besides the athletes themselves) are winning financially, but will we truly crown a worthy champion?
For that matter, the SEC as a whole is probably overrated. The East Division is simply not good. Florida is lucky to have any wins this year besides a drubbing of Eastern Michigan. UGA is competent but flawed without Gurley. Kentucky and Tennessee are nice stories, but won’t be competing for much besides your typical middle-of-the-pack bowl game bid. Vanderbilt is, well, yeah…
Now compare all of the SEC to the Pac-12. Or perhaps the Big-12. You should notice a difference in that other conferences actually have better teams lower on the rung. Teams like Utah, Washington State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Maybe it’s time to start believing the Oregons and Baylors of the world have it tougher than we thought.
The problem is, when forecasting what the College Football Playoff rankings may look like come the middle of November, a prediction of the four coveted spots of interest seems log-jammed with usual suspects. The SEC really should only have one representative—their rightful conference champion after a brawl in the Georgia Dome. Yet, based on the current AP Polls placing half of the Top-10 as Southeastern Conference members, it appears that there could be at least two or more destined to make it in.
By the way, what about equal representation? After all, there is still Marshall who should be a bigger part of the equation. With a veteran quarterback in Rakeem Cato, the Thundering Herd are 6-0 and showing no signs of stopping. Conference USA doesn’t provide the best resume for the other team from West Virginia, which is why East Carolina is ranked ahead of Marshall despite having lost to South Carolina. But shouldn’t not losing count for something more than a simple nod in cracking the Top-25?
As we look towards the second portion of the college football season, here are three games in Week 9 that standout:
(21) Texas A&M vs (7) Alabama
The Aggies have suffered back-to-back division losses in as many weeks. They’re reeling. The defense looks lost, and the other side of the ball is showing signs of added pressure because of it. If Kenny Hill and the offense can play mistake-free football for four quarters, they can outscore the Crimson Tide. Alabama will be looking to provide a crippling body blow in this knockout match of a game, with the winner still on track for a potential late push into playoff contention.
(15) Oklahoma State vs (12) TCU
The Horned Frogs, coming off a wild-west showdown in Waco, will look to bounce back at home against the Cowboys. Oklahoma State has shown admirable resolve after losing QB J.W. Walsh to injury; Tyreek Hill has the world-class speed to change the outcome of any battle on one play (such as his 99-yard kickoff return TD against Kansas last week). Okie State would set up a huge game versus Baylor towards the end of November with a win over Texas Christian. TCU can stay in the conference title hunt if QB Trevone Boykin can provide a lead for his opportunistic defense.
(5) Notre Dame vs (2) Florida State
Nostalgia reigns supreme in this colossal clash of the titans. The Fighting Irish and Seminoles are similar in many respects—both have playmakers behind center and controversy surrounding their programs. Once you get past all the hoopla and extra chatter not dealing with what happens between the lines, there is a great matchup between the Notre Dame offense and ‘Noles’ defense to look forward to.
The Golden Domers may slow down Jameis Winston and Co. to some degree, but they won’t totally shut FSU down. The key will be if Everett Golson can match his counterpart on the scoreboard long enough for his troops to believe they can pull out a W in hostile territory. If RBs Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook gain around five yards per carry (as they did in the Carrier Dome for FSU), the Garnet and Gold will not make it a close affair.
Tons of change can occur in the next few weeks as we draw closer to the playoff selection committee’s first official rankings release. Look for two to three schools among the Big-12, Big Ten and/or Pac-12 to establish themselves as legit contenders too impressive to ignore by the end of October.
Featured Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Ariel Bedford writes for Scouts Alley. A freelancer from Florida, he also is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Check out his personal media profile page and follow him on Twitter @mpcmi.