It’s over! They did it. Finally someone took up the challenge and did it. No, USC still won despite an early scare. And Vanderbilt won too to continue undefeated into October. I am talking about Marshall losing to Central Florida thereby ending the Golden Knights’ 17 game losing streak extending back to 2003. With the win, Central Florida is now 1-0 in Conference USA despite their 1-2 record. Are they headed for the conference title game? Probably not, but it is nice to see something good happen for George O’Leary and Central Florida. There was more intense action this week, in week four of the 2005 season.
The Big Ten opened their conference season with five big games, the winners having the inside track to the conference title. At the end of the day, those who were predicting the winner of the conference prior to the season mostly saw their predictions go up in smoke, including myself. Of the four teams which I saw predicted to win the conference at the beginning of the year, only one emerged victorious, meaning that the other three have a big hole to climb out of in order to take the title.
Purdue was facing a Minnesota squad which has been known to drop the big games. With the number one rushing defense coming into the game, it looked to be a huge battle on the front line against a Minnesota line called “the best offensive line I’ve seen since Nebraska’s in 1983,” by Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger, whose team lost to Minnesota last week. Instead, Purdue’s defense collapsed against Laurence Maroney. Maroney ran for a career high 217 yards although he didn’t score. It took two overtimes before it ended, but Minnesota won their first Big Ten game. All of a sudden, my crazy prediction for them to win the conference at the end of last season doesn’t look so crazy. Contender #1, Purdue: In the hole.
Michigan was looking to get off to a good start in the Big Ten. They always get off to a good start in conference play, having won the last 23 conference openers. Going up against Wisconsin, a team that they have never lost to under Lloyd Carr, it looks like they were going to extend that. With nine minutes remaining, Michigan was looking secure, up by 4 and knowing that they only needed to hold the Badgers out of the end zone. John Stocco would not be defeated. Starting his drive with four minutes remaining and great field position, Stocco and back Brian Calhoun led their team down the field with the quarterback taking the last play into the end zone for the go ahead and ultimately winning score. Barry Alverez begins conference play at the top of the heap and undefeated. Contender #2, Michigan: In the hole.
Another undefeated team after week four is Michigan State. The Spartans have a history of letdowns after big wins, and their victory over Notre Dame last week sure qualifies as one. Playing on the road against a feisty Illinois team, it smelled ripe for an upset. This day however belonged to Drew Stanton once again. The junior quarterback helped to lead his team to school record 705 offensive yards against the Illini. He also threw five touchdowns, setting another school record. I hesitated about putting this team into my Top Ten last week because of their defense but they were able to hold Illinois to less than 300 yards this week and looked impressive doing it. There was no late comeback by their opponent this week. Michigan State’s game against Michigan next week will be decisive for their season but right now, that one looks to be all green.
As the game ended, Joe Paterno mentioned that his wife couldn’t play so she wasn’t out there. He didn’t need her as his team came up big for their ancient leader winning on their final drive with a pass from quarterback Michael Robinson to highly coveted freshman, Derrick Williams. The Penn State team came back from being down 23-7 to beat Northwestern and win their Big Ten opener. Penn State was a pick to be a dark horse in the Big Ten. The team still hasn’t proven that it can play with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State, but it could wipe up the bottom of the pack. With an upset here or there, the Nittany Lions may see themselves in a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
The biggest game in the Big Ten took place in Columbus, Ohio, pitting two of the early season contenders for the Big Ten title, Iowa and Ohio State. After Drew Tate was knocked out of the game against Iowa State two weeks ago, Iowa’s dreams of running the table went away. After the way he played on Saturday, they have now seen their dreams of Big Ten dominance go away. Ohio State’s defense held Iowa’s quarterback to 146 yards and stifled the Iowa rushing game in order to pull out the big win at home. Behind quarterback Troy Smith, who has finally settled into the role of starter, the Ohio State offense managed to look a little better on the day, despite only six touches for Ted Ginn. While National title hopes are still up in the air for Ohio State after their loss to Texas, their team is finally looking like the conference title contender that they were billed as. Contender #3, Iowa: In the hole.
So, of the five Big Ten teams with a win in their first conference game, who has the inside track? Given what I have seen during the first four weeks of the season, I would lean towards Michigan State and their explosive offense. If their defense can hold up against Michigan and Ohio State over their next two games, the road to the conference title looks to be smooth the rest of the way. Ohio State would be second on my list, followed by Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Sorry to all those Indiana fans out there, but next week’s game against Wisconsin looks to be the end of your undefeated season.
Notre Dame had a big pressure game against their old coach Ty Willingham and his new team, Washington, this week. Brady Quinn had another game showing his potential but the game ball for their emotional win goes to the Irish defense. They caused three turnovers, including a fumble on the one-yard line and an interception in the end zone, which stalled Washington and let Quinn go to work. Freshman running back Darius Walker went for over 100 yards for his fourth straight game, becoming the first Notre Dame back to do so in his first four games. Walker will have a hard time catching Oklahoma back Adrian Peterson’s record given their big match-up against USC in three weeks, but this is still a major achievement for an offense and an offensive line that was not this good one year ago.
I wrote about the emotional game which was Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech last year. While last year’s victory took a late comeback by Bryan Randall to secure the win, this year’s win was in the Hokie court by the end of the first quarter and all but complete at the end of the first half. We may never know how much the viral meningitis that Yellow Jacket quarterback Reggie Ball had last week and into this week affected his play. He was definitely not on through the first Georgia Tech drives. Marcus Vick was. He finished 13 for 18 with 223 yards in the air. His legs were not a big factor on Saturday, but they didn’t need to be. He had Beamer ball to help him out. The Virginia Tech special teams literally lent a hand by blocking a field goal attempt by Georgia Tech and returned it for a touchdown. The defense then kicked in late in the game, intercepting passes on consecutive drives and returning them for touchdowns. In the end, the scoreboard was heavily weighted in Virginia Tech’s favor. Now 3-0 in conference, Virginia Tech has the inside track to the first ACC title game later this season. They have outscored their opponents 141-7 in their last three games, which has got to leave their next opponent, West Virginia, scratching their heads as to how to stop the Hokies and score against them.
I had this review written prior to Monday night, and if I would have published it then, I would have been in error, much like I think the major polls were in error. All three polls, because yes, we have three now, published rankings either on Sunday or Monday, and totally discounted the LSU-Tennessee game which was still technically part of Week 4. I, however, wanted to wait. I felt that game was too important to the week as a whole to publish early.
And, I was right. I actually started to write the review of the game at halftime. The crowd was roaring in a sweltering heat, the offense rolling, and Erik Ainge and the Vols looked tired and helpless against the Tigers. By the half, the only criticism I had of LSU was that JaMarcus Russell didn’t run out of bounds so that LSU could set up a field goal which would have put them up 24-0 at the time. Once the game was complete, it was unbelievable how big that error was.
I had even written how Tennessee was making the same mistakes again. They went away from the quarterback who was proclaimed the starter hoping for a change in momentum on the field. You couldn’t blame Phillip Fullmer for making the decision. Ainge had just thrown an interception on a poor decision to throw the ball, and that was returned for a touchdown to put them down three scores. However, he had tried this change in the previous game against Florida, putting in Ainge in relief of Rick Clausen with no change in the offense. So what made him think that it would work this time? At first it didn’t. Clausen couldn’t do any better than Ainge had done. He just didn’t turn the ball over.
And then halftime came. Fullmer said after the game that he and the rest of the team made promises to each other in the locker room. And that promise is what carried them. The receivers, who all through the first half missed huge open field catches, started to have sticky hands. Gerald Riggs was able to penetrate through the tough Tiger line for some yardage. The defense finally stopped Russell and Joseph Addai. Tennessee was able to run off long drives while holding LSU to short three and four play drives, tiring the LSU defense and slowing them down even more in pass coverage.
It was a different game. Receivers were constantly open for the Vols. Tacklers for LSU missed once or twice before finally bringing down the ball carrier. Clausen proved to be a huge leader for the Vols and got a little measure of revenge against the team he transferred away from and the hostile crowd, now silent in response to the attack laid on them.
When the game went to overtime, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the game was over. LSU had barely stopped Tennessee’s offense at all during the final 30 minutes. At the same time, their offense was only able to get one drive of over ten yards after the half. All signs pointed to a Tennessee victory. Once Gerald Riggs got the ball on the one yard line and ran over the linebacker for the touchdown, it was complete.
With the loss, LSU has a struggle ahead of them. It appears that a trip to the Rose Bowl is out of reach, and now Atlanta and the SEC championship may not be far behind. Alabama is currently 2-0 in the SEC West and playing well despite the close game with Arkansas this week. LSU still has a date with Florida in two weeks, and no weeks off the rest of the season. A loss to Florida, which could be likely at this point considering the play of the Gators, would end any chance to take the West. I guess my undefeated season for LSU is not going to happen. I mentioned a few weeks ago how Hurricane Katrina was going to affect the Rose Bowl. I just didn’t realize it was going to happen this soon.
The first MRI numbers are out this week, but I will continue with my Top Ten.
And so to finish, my Top Ten for Week 4:
- USC – I felt bad for Oregon last week. I still feel bad for them. They held USC as long as they could but these Trojans are just too good. Another giant conference game at Arizona State next week. They made need triple digits on both sides of the scoreboard for that one.
- Texas – A well deserved week off. They almost lost their spot this week, but I am sticking with the Longhorns. Missouri and then Oklahoma. A couple of teams almost got caught looking ahead this week. Can Texas stay focused?
- Virginia Tech – A jump to #3 after a great showing against Georgia Tech. Almost #2, but let’s see how they do against the very good Mountaineer defense before we give them that honor. West Virginia ruined the Hokie hopes two years ago in their last year in the Big East. Can they do it again?
- Florida – Drop to #4 after beating Kentucky. During the first half, nothing could stop them. During the second half, without Chris Leak at the helm, they didn’t score. The lack of production from the second team is a little scary for this team especially if anything should happen to the starters over the long SEC season. Now 2-0, they are tied for the East lead… with Vandy.
- Florida State – Off. They are already getting their ticket punched to Jacksonville by the media. With their offense still a question mark at times, they could still slip in conference. Florida still looms large at the end of the schedule, but I am still inclined to believe they will make it there with their season intact. The Orange will be Florida orange juice at the end of next week.
- Cal – Gave up a good deal of yardage against a very bad New Mexico State team, but Joe Ayoob and Justin Forsett compiled big numbers for the Bears too. This team is really clicking at this point, enough to jump them up the standings. They still have a couple of danger games before they get USC but is there any reason to doubt that the Pac-10 might be decided that night? Well, maybe Arizona State will have something to say about that.
- Georgia – A closer than expected win against Mississippi State, but still looked together throughout the game. Still the second best team in the East for my money. A week off before they get Tennessee. They better be ready to play the full 60 minutes unlike LSU now that Rick Clausen has his confidence.
- Arizona State – No doubt about the Sun Devils now. Despite a close game early against Oregon State (much like Louisville had), Sam Keller took this team to a huge victory on the road. They have the next chance to be the giant killers when they take on USC next week. Here’s hoping that they have plenty of oxygen on the sidelines…for the scorekeeper.
- Michigan State – I had my doubts because of their defense last week. This week, those doubts are gone. With apologies to all the Buckeye fans out there, this is the leader for the Big Ten title. Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t need to apologize to Ohio State. Drew Stanton is a clear #4 for the Heisman right now. If he keeps playing this way, there is no reason for him not to be invited to New York after the season.
- Miami – Sure, they lost to Florida State to start the season. Despite that, their defense has played well all year and is keeping them close while Kyle Wright improves at quarterback. Have South Florida this weekend who proved they could tackle Louisville. Miami’s defense better be ready or the Bulls will skewer their second big name of the season.
Others to consider: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama, LSU, Texas Tech
Ben Miraski writes about college football and basketball on his website, MRISports.com.