Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kentucky Comes Up Big in Huge Week

At the beginning of this week, the Kentucky Wildcats were 13-5, 4-2 in the SEC and facing a daunting week ahead.

First, the Wildcats had to visit No. 16 Ole Miss at the Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford. The Rebels were one of the hottest teams in the country, and featured the conference's leading scorer in Marshall Henderson.

It looked like a tough situation for a young team that had recently lost on the road at Alabama, in a game they probably should have won. After falling in Tuscaloosa, the Wildcats had to hold off a pesky LSU team, winning 75-70 in Rupp Arena.

In Oxford, Kentucky was able to keep Henderson in check, as he hit only 5-of-19 from the floor and scored 19 points. Kyle Wiltjer had a career high 26 for Kentucky and Archie Goodwin added 24 as the Big Blue won 87-74.

But Kentucky could not rest on its most recent victory. Staring them in the face was a trip to College Station to face Texas A&M, a team that had beaten the Wildcats 83-71 in Rupp Arena just three weeks ago. In that game, it was the Aggies' Elston Turner who stole the show, scoring 40 points, one of the best games ever by an opponent in Rupp Arena.

On this Saturday, it was Kentucky that appeared to be the better team. Kentucky raced out to a big lead, but A&M held the lead down, and was able to tie the game at the end of regulation, sending it to overtime.

In the extra period, Kentucky turned not to one of its talented freshmen, but to senior transfer Julius Mays, who scored 19 points, including five in overtime, to seal the win for the Big Blue.

Kentucky led by one point with 15 seconds left in overtime, when Mays hit two free throws to make the lead three. Mays then did a great job guarding Turner, who missed a tough three-pointer. Mays was fouled and he hit another free throw to seal the game for the Wildcats.

Not to be overlooked, freshman sensation Nerlens Noel had a career-high 19 points, while adding 14 rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal in 41 minutes of action.

The results of this week prove that Kentucky, with an RPI of 48 before Saturday's game, is clearly an NCAA Tournament team. The Wildcats hold their own destiny in front of them. They need to continue to beat the teams they are supposed to beat, as well as beating Missouri (No. 32 RPI) and getting a win against Florida (RPI No. 7) at home to get into the field of 68.

Before this week, those wins didn't seem possible, but if Kentucky continues to improve, they could not only make the field of 68, they could make some noise in March.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can College Basketball Produce an Undefeated Champion?

When the Indiana Hoosiers completed the 1975-76 season as undefeated NCAA Champions, few people probably thought that it would be 30-plus years (at least) before we saw another perfect championship team. After all, it was the fifth time in 13 seasons that the national champion had finished with an unblemished record.

However, in the 37 years since Bob Knight's squad pulled off the feat, no college basketball team has been able to match the level of perfection. Already this season, every Division I team has suffered at least one loss.

The 13-year stretch between 1964 and 1976 that produced five unbeaten champions is definitely the exception, rather than the norm, for two reasons: 1) the UCLA factor; and 2) there have actually only been seven undefeated champions since 1939, when the NCAA Tournament began.

UCLA had four unbeaten national championship seasons from 1964 through 1973. John Wooden's teams went undefeated in 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973. Led by Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, those teams had no rival that could match their talent at the time. UCLA won seven straight championships and 10 of 12 during Wooden's run in Westwood.

While UCLA's feat is indeed impressive, keep in mind that the NCAA Tournament field was only 22-25 teams in those days, meaning the Bruins only had to win four games to claim the championship, rather than the six (or seven) that teams would have to win today. That's two extra games, one likely against a pretty good team, that today's teams have to navigate which UCLA didn't.

Outside of UCLA's four unbeaten seasons, only three other teams have accomplished the feat. In 1956, San Francisco, led by center Bill Russell, won its second consecutive championship, with a 29-0 record. The next year, North Carolina and head coach Frank McGuire went 32-0 en route to the title. And in 1976, Knight's Indiana Hoosiers were also 32-0 in claiming the national title.

Since the 1976 season, several teams have come close to completing an unbeaten record. In 1979, Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, won its first 33 games before losing to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the national championship game.

In 1991, UNLV was unbeaten heading into the Final Four before being upset by eventual national champion Duke.

In 2004, St. Joseph's had an unbeaten regular season before losing in their conference tournament. In 2008, John Calipari's Memphis team won its first 26 games before suffering their first loss.

So, what has changed in today's game that makes it so tough to go unbeaten? There are several factors.

First, in 1986, the shot clock was instituted in college basketball. This eliminated the deliberate style that could keep stronger teams from milking the clock to preserve a win.

In 1987, the three-point shot came to the college game. The long ball gave lesser teams a fighting chance, and made deficits easier to overcome late in games.

The NCAA scholarship reductions, from 15 to 13, also leveled the ground for lesser teams. Big-time teams could no longer load their roster with such superior talent that it was hard to overcome.

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, the NBA has changed college basketball. Players leaving school early has depleted the talent in the college game. Players that would have stayed in school and developed into outstanding players are now leaving school early for the riches of the NBA.

Take a look back at Wooden's UCLA teams. Experience is the common them among nearly all of his 10 championships. And in 1976, Knight started four seniors and a junior on his unbeaten team.

Today's norm is much different. For example, the 2012 national champion Kentucky Wildcats started three amazingly-talented freshman (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague) and a pair of super sophomores (Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb). Coming off the bench was a senior playmaker (Darius Miller). That team was able to go 38-2 en route to the national title.

Kentucky's team was as talented as any in recent memory. All of its top six were taken in the NBA Draft, including all five starters in the first round. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were the top two overall picks in the draft.

Yet, Kentucky had a few flaws. Their only regular season loss came at Indiana, in front of a hostile crowd in Bloomington and on a last-second shot by Christian Watford. Experience, or the lack of it, played a big role in the loss. Kentucky missed a few free throws down the stretch that could have iced the game.

Secondly, despite such massive talent in its first six players, Kentucky lacked depth. That proved to be an Achilles heel in the Wildcats' second loss of the season, to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament Championship. Kentucky was playing for the third time in three days, and the Wildcats didn't have much left in the tank.

That being said, can college basketball produce an unbeaten champion in today's atmosphere? I think it would be tough, but there is a formula in which it could happen.

Take out all of the power conferences. With the level playing field of today, it's highly unlikely that a power conference team could go unbeaten. There are as many as nine road games within the conference for those teams, and winning on the road, in the conference, is always tough.

However, take teams like Gonzaga, Memphis or UNLV. These teams play in lesser conferences, but they almost always seem to have top-level talent. If a school like one of these were to put together a non-conference schedule in which they could remain unbeaten, and then ran the table in conference play and the conference tournament, they would head into the tournament with not only and unbeaten record, but with a ton of momentum (and a number one seed).

From there, the anything-can-happen NCAA Tournament could give such a team a chance to win it all. Granted, there would be significant pressure, being undefeated and likely ranked number one in the country. And there would be challenges, facing battled-tested teams from power conferences along the way. But that's the scenario, in my mind, that could produce an unbeaten national champion.

I don't see any teams with the talent of the 1990s UNLV teams at this time, so this is not likely to happen for at least a couple of years. But if college basketball is to have an undefeated champion, that's the way it could happen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lance Armstrong: Villain, Hero or Both?

The big news in the sports world today is that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has reportedly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs while winning those cycling titles.

This is something that has been expected for a while. For years, there had been whispers about Armstrong allegedly "doping". More recently, Armstrong gave up the fight to clear his name from those allegations.

Unfortunately for cycling, the sport has been dominated by doping allegations for years now. Armstrong is just the most recent cyclist to allegedly admit using performance enhancers.

Armstrong's story was a great one. The Texan survived testicular cancer and fought his way back to the top of the sport he loved. He started a foundation that has raised approximately $500 million to fight cancer.

So is Armstrong a villain for cheating to win seven of the most prestigious titles in his sport? Should his name be mentioned in the same breath with alleged cheaters like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

Or, is Armstrong a hero, for battling back from what appeared to be a death sentence and reaching the top of his sport? Or, more importantly, for raising money to fight cancer, which has affected so many people around the world.

As the story unfolds even more over the next couple of days, people will make points on both sides of the argument. After the Winfrey interview later this week, some opinions may change.

Ultimately, it seems to be up to individuals to decide how they feel about Armstrong and in which light they see him: villain or hero.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tale Of Two Programs

Want to know the difference between the football programs at Miami and Florida right now? Simply look at their current coaching searches.

Miami fired Randy Shannon after he and his team lost the season finale to South Florida. Since that time, the 'Canes have thrown out lots of big names, including Jon Gruden and Bo Pelini. But my sources tell me that the job will be offered to Temple's Al Golden or Connecticut's Randy Edsall.

Really Miami? You have a job open for two weeks, and that's the best you can do? No offense meant to Golden or Edsall. Both are good coaches who have done tremendous jobs at their current stops. But is one of these guys supposed to turn Miami back into the 'Canes of the 1980's and 1990's? I'm not buying it.

On the other side of the coin, check out Florida's coaching search. Urban Meyer resigns on Wednesday. And on Saturday, Florida AD Jeremy Foley announces the hiring of Will Muschamp as the new head coach.

Three days, and a coach is hired. And, by all accounts, Muschamp is one of the rising stars in coaching. Muschamp was the "coach in waiting" at Texas, but with no retirement coming from Mack Brown, he decided to jump ship and take the Florida job.

Granted, no one knows how Muschamp will do as a head coach, since he's never served in that capacity before. But all indications are that the 39-year-old will be an outstanding head coach, and he'll certainly have all of the resources he needs in Gainesville.

It's a shame that Miami's search is going the way it's going, while another Florida school is able to make a quick and solid decision. NCAA Football would be better if Miami were better, but as the brass at UM botch another search, it may be a while before that happens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

BCS Gets It Right

Love it or hate it, the Bowl Championship Series got it right on Sunday night. The matchup between Auburn and Oregon should be a classic. And, after what we saw on Saturday, these are clearly the two best teams in the country.

Auburn dismantled the Ol' Ball Coach and his South Carolina Gamecocks in the SEC Championship Game. Meanwhile, Oregon visited arch rival Oregon State and took care of business, with their typical big second half.

These two teams figure to provide the nation with an offensive explosion in the BCS Championship Game. Both teams average more than 40 points per game. Auburn is led by Heisman Trophy favorite Cam Newton, while Oregon has its own Heisman candidate in running back LaMichael James.

Those that cry foul each year during the college football season really have no argument this season. Sure, TCU is unbeaten and is being left out of the title game, but the Horned Frogs play in a non-automatic qualifying conference (for now), and they clearly did not face the schedule that either Auburn or Oregon faced.

Other Big Bowl Matchups

Utah vs. Boise State (MAACO Bowl Las Vegas) - Two previous BCS Busters meet in this one. Both teams are nationally-ranked, and Boise State figures to be highly motivated after a devistating loss at Nevada last weekend. Utah has been up and down, but Kyle Whittingham always has his team ready to play in its bowl game (just ask Nick Saban).

Tulsa vs. Hawaii (Sheraton Hawaii Bowl) - If you like points, keep an eye on this game on Christmas Eve. Tulsa is 10th nationally, averaging 39.7 points per game. Hawaii is ninth in the same category, posting 39.9 points per outing.

Miami (Fla.) vs. Notre Dame (Hyundai Sun Bowl) - OK, so it's not 1990, and it's not Catholics vs. Convicts, but this is still a matchup of two of college football's biggest names. Miami fired Randy Shannon at the end of the regular season, so it will be interesting to see how the 'Canes respond. Notre Dame has had its troubles this year as well, although it appears that Brian Kelly has them headed in the right direction.

Florida State vs. South Carolina (Chick-fil-A Bowl) - These two teams will enter the game after losing in their conference title game. Jimbo Fisher has the 'Noles back in the national picture despite falling to Virginia Tech in Charlotte on Saturday. Steve Spurrier has to get his team to rebound from the pounding they took at the hands of Auburn in the SEC Championship.

Penn State vs. Florida (Outback Bowl) - Joe Paterno has already announced that he's returning for his 95th season next year (slight exaggeration only). His team will face Florida, a team that had a very disappointing regular season. However, the Outback Bowl skipped South Carolina to take the Gators, and Urban Meyer should have his team ready to face the Nittany Lions.

Alabama vs. Michigan State (Capital One Bowl) - Another SEC vs. Big Ten matchup in this one. The defending national champs are 9-3, with tough losses to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn. Michigan State lost only once (37-6 at Iowa), but the Spartans did not face Ohio State. However, they did beat Wisconsin in Week 5.

Michigan vs. Mississippi State (Konica Minolta Gator Bowl) - The interesting thing in this game, to me, is whether either of these teams will have the same coach at the beginning of next season. Rich Rodriguez is under pressure at Michigan, while Mississippi State's Dan Mullen figures to be a hot commodity once this game is over.

TCU vs. Wisconsin (Rose Bowl presented by Vizio) - This game is a clash of styles. TCU is unbeaten and does it with defense. The Horned Frogs give up only 215 yards and 11.4 points per game, leading the nation in both categories. They will face a Wisconsin team that is fourth nationally in scoring (43.3 points per game). Side note: TCU also averages 43.3 points per game.

Arkansas vs. Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl) - Arkansas was perhaps the hottest team in the country at the end of the season. Quarterback Ryan Mallett puts up huge numbers in Bobby Petrino's offense, and that will be a challenge for the Buckeyes' defense. On the other side, Arkansas must find a way to stop Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Auburn Validates Top Ranking By Winning at Alabama

The Auburn Tigers did exactly what they needed to do on Friday, winning at defending national champion and arch rival Alabama to solidify their position in the BCS standings. However, the manner in which the Tigers won wasn’t exactly the way Gene Chizik drew it up.

The Crimson Tide overwhelmed Auburn in the first half, jumping ahead 21-0 in the first quarter and leading 24-7 at the half.

That’s when the legend of Cam Newton grew again. Alabama did an outstanding job controlling Newton on the ground, so he went to the air. For the game, Newton connected on 13-of-20 passes for 216 yards and three big touchdowns. All of that, plus a rushing touchdown, were enough to bring the Tigers back in the second half and to win, 28-27.

Many experts doubted Auburn’s ability to visit Tuscaloosa and come out with a victory over Nick Saban’s team. However, the Tigers are now one win away from the BCS National Championship Game. Standing in the way are Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks, who the Tigers will meet on Saturday in Atlanta.

Stock up

Wisconsin – Offensively, is there a hotter team in the country right now? The Badgers have scored 70 points or more three times this season, including two of the last three weeks. Bret Bielema’s team is likely headed to the Rose Bowl, as the highest ranked Big Ten team in the BCS standings (we’ll know for sure next week, when the final BCS standings are released). An interesting bowl matchup would be Wisconsin’s potent offense against TCU’s stout defense.

Oklahoma – This year, the Sooners were expected to compete for not only the Big 12 title, but a national championship. But losing two-of-three in the middle of the season saw those hopes go by the wayside. However, Oklahoma rebounded to win its final three games and, by virtue of its BCS standing, the Sooners will represent the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday. And, how appropriate, they will face Nebraska (neither Mike Rozier nor Brian Bosworth will be involved).

Arkansas – The Razorbacks have the second-longest winning streak in the SEC after Saturday’s 31-23 win over LSU in Little Rock. Bobby Petrino’s team has put itself in position for a BCS berth now, providing Auburn wins the SEC Championship game on Saturday. If that happens, expect Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks to be playing in the Sugar Bowl.

Notre Dame – Brian Kelly is an outstanding coach and, by most accounts, a good man. This season hasn’t gone the way he had hoped, with problems on and off the field. But on Saturday in Los Angeles, Kelly and his Irish made a big statement. Notre Dame went to USC and won, 20-16, beating the Trojans for the first time in eight years. With the win, Kelly is guaranteed a winning season, and a better bowl. Plus, he is 1-0 against Lane Kiffin, which has to feel good.

Tennessee – The Volunteers have not had a typical Tennessee season in 2010, but after opening 2-6, Derek Dooley’s troops rallied to win their last four and, after beating Kentucky on Saturday, the Vols are now bowl eligible. Tennessee won its 26th straight game against Kentucky on Saturday, the longest active streak of any FBS opponent against another.

Stock down

Boise State – What a tough loss for the Broncos. Kicker Kyle Brotzman missed not one but two field goals late in the game and in overtime, allowing Nevada to win, 34-31 in overtime, ending Boise’s 24-game winning streak and taking them out of contention for the BCS. Brotzman can’t bear all of the blame. Boise’s offense disappeared in the second half, and the defense allowed 27 points to the Wolf Pack in the second half and overtime.

Miami (Fla.) – Just two weeks ago, Miami was 7-3, facing a pair of winnable games that could allow them to close at 9-3. But things didn’t work out, as the Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech (31-17) and South Florida (23-20), and suddenly, Miami was not only 7-5, but they were changing coaches. Randy Shannon was fired on Sunday, and the “U” will begin a national search for a coach immediately. Quite a change from only two weeks ago.

Florida – The Gators were thoroughly handled by Florida State on Saturday, losing 31-7 in Tallahassee. The loss dropped Florida to 7-5 on the season, marking the Gators’ first five-loss season since 2004. If the Gators lose their bowl game, it will be the first six-loss season since 1987. The disturbing thing is that Urban Meyer’s team appears to be confused about what’s actually happening on the field. The Gators are using three quarterbacks, and the offense has had no rhythm for the last three weeks (48 points against Appalachian State doesn’t count).

Texas – The last team to play in the national championship game one year, then miss bowls altogether the next? Yep, it’s the 2010 Longhorns. Texas had a tremendous drop-off in the middle of the season. If you don’t remember, this team was 3-0 and 4-2 earlier this season. At 4-2, with games remaining against Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State and Florida Atlantic, you would figure the Longhorns could find the two wins to become bowl eligible. But they didn’t. They only beat FAU, and at 5-7, Mack Brown’s team will be home for the holidays.

Iowa – What in the world happened to the Hawkeyes on Saturday? This was supposed to be the fourth-best team in the Big Ten. And they faced the 10th-best (next-to-last) team in Minnesota. And the Golden Gophers were able to pull the stunner, winning 27-24 in Minneapolis. But this game wasn’t that close. Minnesota outgained Iowa 382 to 218, outrushing them 216 to 91. Not a strong ending for Kirk Ferentz’s team.

Statistical Studs - Week 13

Jordan La Secla, San Jose State – The Spartan quarterback hit on 35-of-65 passes for 496 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-38 loss to Louisiana Tech.

Alex Green, Hawaii – Green carried 19 times for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the Warriors crushed New Mexico State, 59-24.

Torrey Smith, Maryland – Smith caught 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns as the Terps upset No. 21 N.C. State, 38-31.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma – The Sooners’ signal called certainly threw it all over the field on Saturday night. Jones completed 37-of-62 through the air for 468 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma’s 47-41 win at Oklahoma State.

Lance Dunbar, North Texas – In a losing effort, Dunbar rushed 22 times for 270 yards and three touchdowns as the Big Green fell to Kansas State, 49-41.

Games I’ll Be Watching in Week 14

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 18 South Carolina (SEC Championship)
No. 1 Oregon at Oregon State
No. 20 Florida State vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech (ACC Championship)
No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Nebraska (Big 12 Championship)
No. 14 Nevada at Louisiana Tech

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week 12: LSU Survives, Stays In The Hunt

For college football fans, Saturday was somewhat of a letdown. None of the nation’s top four teams played, as Oregon, Auburn and TCU had the weekend off, while Boise State played (and won) on Friday night.

The weekend did offer a few novelties. There was the Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field, where all offensive plays were run to the West (or towards the third base line). There was also Notre Dame’s “home” game against Army at the new Yankee Stadium. But overall, Week 12 wasn’t the most exciting weekend of college football this season.

Of course, if you are an LSU fan, every weekend is exciting (and an adventure). The Tigers, no matter who they are playing, seem to almost always find themselves in a close game. Such was the case on Saturday, when Ole Miss came calling. LSU clearly has more talent that the Rebels, but Ole Miss hung around and made it interesting all the way.

I would have to imagine that this season (as well as the Cajun cooking) has given many LSU fans an ulcer. But if the Tigers can survive Saturday’s tough test at Arkansas, a BCS bowl bid should be coming to Baton Rouge. I’m not sure what will happen in the LSU-Arkansas game, but I bet it’s close.

Stock up

Virginia Tech – Remember the first two weeks of the season? This team was left for dead after losing to Boise State and James Madison. Since then, Frank Beamer’s squad is 9-0, and has now clinched the ACC Coastal Division title. The Hokies are not only the only unbeaten team in the ACC, but they are the only team without at least two losses. Kudos to Beamer and his staff on keeping this team together after a horrible start.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes picked up a nice win on Saturday, winning at Iowa, 20-17. Jim Tressel’s team is 10-1 on the season, with only the game against Michigan remaining on the schedule. The bad news is, the Buckeyes are behind Wisconsin in the polls and the BCS Standings, so a three-way tie in the Big Ten standings would likely go the way of the Badgers, leaving Ohio State out of the Rose Bowl, but perhaps still in the BCS (Orange Bowl?)

Arkansas – Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks won in a very tough SEC West matchup on Saturday night, overcoming a tough Mississippi State team, and the cowbells, for a double overtime win. Believe it or not, Arkansas sees itself as a BCS contender. Stick with me here. If they beat LSU on Saturday, the Razorbacks will be 10-2, and would figure to at least be in the discussion for a BCS bowl bid. I think Alabama would be picked before Arkansas, but we’ll see how it plays out.

Tennessee – Has anyone noticed what the Vols are doing? At one point this season, Tennessee was 2-6 and headed toward disaster. Just three weeks later, the Big Orange are 5-6, and heading into what amounts to a guaranteed victory (a game against Kentucky, who they’ve beaten 25 times in a row). Derek Dooley has found a quarterback in freshman Tyler Bray, and the Vols are playing much better football. This team qualifying for a bowl would be just short of a miracle.

Northern Illinois – The Huskies have won eight in a row after Saturday’s 59-21 drubbing of Ball State in Muncie, Ind. Northern Illinois has clinched the MAC West Division title and will play in the MAC title game on December 3. This team is 9-2 overall, with losses at Iowa State and at Illinois. The Huskies could find themselves ranked very soon.

Stock down

USC – OK, I want to know who in the hell these Associated Press voters are that keep ranking this team. Last week, USC was No. 20 in the AP Poll (they are ineligible for the USA Today poll, due to probation). So, being ranked that high, a game against a 4-5 Oregon State team shouldn’t be that tough, right? Wrong. Oregon State won the game 36-7. Lane Kiffin’s team is 7-4, and may be a lot of things, but they are NOT a Top 25 team. Saturday’s game against Notre Dame will actually be very interesting.

Baylor – Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were 7-2, nationally-ranked and flying high after beating Texas 30-22. Since then, Baylor has lost to Oklahoma State (55-28), Texas A&M (42-30) and Oklahoma (53-24). Granted, the Big 12 did them no favors with the schedule, but that’s a tough way to finish the season. Hopefully for Art Briles and his Bears, they will draw an easier bowl opponent.

Nebraska – This team is tough to figure out. At times, they look like they can compete with anyone. And at other times, they look like bottom feeders. Case in point, Saturday’s 9-6 loss to Texas A&M. Where’s the offense? This is a team with Taylor Martinez at quarterback and Roy Helu Jr. at running back. How do they only score six points? The Cornhuskers can still win the Big 12 North by beating Colorado on Friday.

East Carolina – The Pirates have lost three of four after Saturday’s 62-38 loss at Rice. The offense is not the problem for ECU. It’s the defense. In the last three games, ECU has given up 62 points to Rice, 42 to UAB and 76 to Navy. Houston, we have a problem. The Pirates are 6-5 on the season, but this trend can’t continue if they want to move forward.

Louisville – The Cardinals have had back-to-back home games where they could have reached the six-win plateau and become bowl-eligible. And in two straight weeks, Charlie Strong’s team has come up short. Now, the ‘Ville must win a road game at Rutgers to reach that magical six-win mark. Even if they do, there’s no guarantee that Louisville will make it to a bowl game. Short-term, bad news. Long-term, the Cards are more competitive under Strong and figure to be a Big East player very soon.

Statistical Studs – Week 12

Bryant Moniz, Hawaii – The Warrior quarterback was 32-of-44 for 560 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 win over San Jose State.

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois – Leshoure enjoyed the game at Wrigley Field, rushing 33 times for 330 yards and two touchdowns as the Illini pulled the upset, beating Northwestern, 48-27.

Mark Harrison, Rutgers – In a losing effort, Harrison caught 10 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns, as the Scarlet Knights lost to Cincinnati, 69-38.

Ryan Lindley, San Diego State – The Aztecs came up just short in their battle against Utah, but Lindley certainly did his part. He connected on 36-of-54 passes for 528 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-34 loss to No. 25 Utah.

Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky – The Hilltopper workhorse carried the ball 45 times for 248 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s tough 27-26 loss to Middle Tennessee. Rainey also caught four passes for 34 yards.

Games I’ll Be Watching in Week 13

No. 17 Texas A&M at Texas (Thursday)
No. 2 Auburn at No. 9 Alabama (Friday)
No. 20 Arizona at No. 1 Oregon (Friday)
No. 3 Boise State at No. 19 Nevada (Friday)
No. 5 LSU at No. 12 Arkansas (Saturday)
No. 14 Oklahoma at No. 10 Oklahoma State (Saturday)