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NCAA Roundup: Golden Bear Market

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Here we are, halfway through the college football season. The BCS rankings came out this week, and there will probably be large amounts of intrigue and argument from here on out. That intrigue begins at the top, which is no longer the top now. Sure, LSU was unsuccessful in defending their number one ranking for a second week, but they weren't the only team at the top to fall.

The University of California at Berkeley is unique. They are part of the large "U of Cal at" family (Davis, Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz), but are the only ones not known by their acronym. They aren't UCB, or UC Berkeley, they are well known simply as Cal.

Those very Golden Bears have risen to prominence since Jeff Tedford took over as head coach, and they had finally completed that trip, reaching #2 in the polls heading into this weekend with a game against a rather unimpressive Oregon State team (blowout wins against Arizona, Utah, and Idaho State, blowout losses against Cincinnati and UCLA). Yes, I get to preface this once again with "this is a game they probably should have won."

Granted, this was still a close game, and a last-second error cost Cal a chance at overtime and perhaps the win. But I won't rail on Cal too hard. Oregon State isn't a horrible team, and Riley was making his first ever start in place of Justin Longshore. Does Cal win this game if Longshore starts? Probably. So I see it as just a blip that will hurt their ranking, but not their standing in the Pac-10 championship race. Cal will look to regain conference momentum against UCLA next week, while Oregon State will play Stanford and try to do a better job following up a big win than Stanford did.

The rest of the top 25? There were certainly a lot of blah games this week:

  • Ohio State, South Florida, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Kansas, and Texas won by an average score of 54-8. Nuff said.
  • Boston College, South Carolina, USC and Georgia struggled more than they should have – wining by an average score of 23-14 against UNC, Notre Dame, Arizona, and Vanderbilt (7-19) – but the games weren't interesting beyond that.
  • Which brings us to the supposed 'game of the week', featuring 6th ranked Oklahoma against 11th ranked Missouri. I assure you that very few people would have given this game a second thought at the beginning of the season, but here it was, suddenly all important. It's nice that Curtis Daniel is such a great passer for Missouri, but when the opposing QB (Sam Bradford) is just as good, and you can't run the ball to save your life (30 carries for 57 yards) you're going to have a hard time winning. Missouri actually went into the fourth quarter with a 24-23 lead, but allowed Oklahoma to score on offense, and then had a fumble inside their own 20-yard line returned for a touchdown two plays later. Tack on the three failed extra point attempts by Oklahoma and take back Missouri's touchdown with 25 second left and you have a much more accurate (44-24) final score.
  • No. 14 Arizona State is getting bad at this "slow to get going" thing. Coming into their game against Washington, if you ignore their two cruise control games against SJSU and Stanford (84-6), they had only outscored their opponents 62-53 in the first half. They did more of the same this week. The Huskies used a 36-yard touchdown pass, a 38-yard run, and a 32-yard touchdown run one play after an interception to stake a 17-13 lead at the half. In the third quarter, the Sun Devils' big-play offense came alive, as tailbacks Dmitri Nance and Keegan Herring combined for touchdown runs of 57 and 76 yards, and by the end of the quarter ASU had jumped to a 34-17 victory, after which they held on to remain undefeated by a margin of 44-20.
  • No. 15 Cincinnati took on a significantly less hyped Louisville team and was unable to maintain their undefeated season. Starting QBs Ben Mauk and Brian Brohm put on a bit of a passing clinic (completing 65% of their passes to 15 different receivers, totaling 675 yards, 6 touchdowns and one INT – on the last play of the first half). Things were looking up for UC in the third quarter when Louisville missed a 43-yard field goal and the Bearcats scored on the ensuing possession, but the good vibes didn't last long. The Cardinals came back to score a touchdown of their own, then Cincy followed up by fumbling inside the Louisville 20 yard line on the last play of the third quarter. To top it off in the fourth, the 'Cats allowed a two play, 54 yard scoring drive by Louisville, than came right back and stalled out at the Louisville seven yard line, sealing their fate as Louisville ran out the clock to a 28-24 win.
  • No. 18 Illinois didn't handle the being ranked thing so well. One weekend after entering the polls for the first time in a good long while, they were shut down by a 'playing for pride' Iowa squad. Illinois managed a meager 275 yards of offense, with nearly half of that coming on the field goal drive to open the second half that gave them their last lead and the final drive that ended in an end zone interception and a 10-6 loss.
  • No. 19 Wisconsin continued their free fall this week with a miserable performance against Penn State. Penn State tailbacks Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster continued their effective one-two punching against a quite punchless Wisconsin defense (31 carries for 183 yards and two scores), while Anthony Morelli was just effective enough to keep the defense honest. Wisconsin fumbled on their second offensive play, which Penn State turned into a score, but the Badgers battled back to trail only 10-7 at the end of the quarter. It was all downhill from there, as Wisconsin gave the Nittany Loins two possessions starting across midfield, and could only mister a drive that ended the half and a missed 41-yard field goal on their only two trips past the PSU 45-yard line; from 5th ranked to unranked in two weeks, thanks to a 38-7 loss in Happy Valley.
  • No. 21 Florida State will also rejoin the ranks of the unranked after a close loss to a Wake Forest team that might still challenge for the ACC title after all. The game was quiet until an 83-yard touchdown run by Wake's Josh Adams woke everyone up and the game saw the Seminoles leading 14-7 at halftime. Unfortunately, that's all the 'Noles could muster, and by the time FSU got the ball at their own 26 with 1:35 left, they had been out-gained 252-26 in the second half andsaw their 14-7 lead become a 24-14 deficit. They scored one last touchdown to make the score pretty, but their offense still has a lot of work to do after a 24-21 loss.
  • The SEC is nothing if not entertaining. No. 22 Auburn just just well enough to sneak by Arkansas in what was a pretty ugly game. How ugly was it? Arkansas didn't score their first points until a touchdown with 1:42 left, and that gave them the lead. Auburn out-gained the Hogs by a wide margin, but their first five second-half drives included a fumble at the Arkansas 6-yard line, a three-and-out, and two missed field goals from inside 30 yards, allowing Arkansas to get back in it with their score. Fortunately, Auburn had one last surge left, and their kicker followed through for a paltry 9-7 victory. It may not have been pretty, but they are now right back in the conference championship picture.

We're at the halfway point of the season, and there are only a half-dozen undefeated teams left, four of whom started the season unranked, the most incredible of which is South Florida a team that was predicted to be the third best team in the Big East and is now second best in the country. Will the mighty continue to fall next week?

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