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November 6, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Texas' running game has made remarkable progress. For years, Texas' inability to establish an effective running game has been one of the curiosities of college football. But after Saturday's performance against Texas Tech, it's clear the Longhorns' running game no longer is spinning its wheels. Texas rushed for more than 400 yards for the second week in a row by rolling up 439 yards on Texas Tech. The Longhorns did that without leading rusher Malcolm Brown, who sat out with an injury. Freshman Joe Bergeron came on and rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns. True, Texas Tech's run defense is among the worst in the country, but Texas couldn't run against even the softest defenses last season. The running game could make the Longhorns a difficult team to beat the rest of the season.
[Photo gallery: Saturday's highlights]
Rick Neuheisel just may save his job, after all. UCLA's coach looked as good as gone two weeks ago after an embarrassing 48-12 loss to Arizona. But back-to-back victories, especially Saturday's 29-28 triumph over Arizona State, has the Bruins one win away from bowl eligibility and in control of their own destiny in the Pac-12 South Division race. Three more victories - and maybe just two - would put the Bruins in the Pac-12 championship game.
LSU is the national title favorite, but the Tigers have a quarterback quandary. In the previous three weeks, LSU went to Jordan Jefferson at quarterback as a changeup. He rushed for 69 yards against Tennessee and passed for touchdowns against Florida and Auburn. Against Alabama, the changeup became the norm. In the most important game of the season against the best defense LSU will face all season, Les Miles went with Jefferson. That's partly because Jarrett Lee had his worst game of the season with two interceptions, but Jefferson was in the game for a long stretch in the second and third quarters before Lee re-entered the game and threw his second pick. Jefferson did just enough to beat Alabama, though he accounted for only 110 yards of total offense and no touchdowns. He also did enough to warrant watching LSU's quarterback rotation closely for the rest of the season. Will Jefferson earn his first start of the season and send Lee to the bench, will it be a 50-50 split of snaps or will LSU return to previous form with Lee as the primary quarterback? LSU has Western Kentucky and Ole Miss to figure it out before facing nemesis Arkansas.
[Wetzel: Miles flips script, LSU sinks Alabama]
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have unlikely contenders for their title games. Saturday ended with UCLA and Iowa controlling their own fates for the Rose Bowl. No one could have seen that development two weeks ago, when UCLA lost by 36 to Arizona (2-7), or last week, when Iowa lost to lowly Minnesota. The "Rick Neuheisel Hot Seat Watch" is over for now after the Bruins defeated Pac-12 South leader Arizona State 29-28 to move into a three-way tie with the Sun Devils and ineligible USC for the division lead at 4-2. The offense, which has been such a problem for Neuheisel, has rushed for more than 500 total yards in the past two wins, over California and Arizona State. In the other Rose Bowl-bound conference, Iowa defeated Michigan 24-16 to keep its hopes alive. The Hawkeyes can win the Legends Division if they win out against Michigan State next week, at Purdue and at Nebraska. Both teams probably are long shots for conference titles, but Big Ten and Pac-12 fans are learning that divisional races can bring new life.
Alabama doesn't necessarily deserve a title-game rematch. No one can dispute that Alabama's defense is tremendous - even better than the unit that was the main reason the Tide won the 2009 title. But it's going to be hard for Alabama to talk about "deserving" a second shot at LSU after losing to the Tigers on Saturday night. If the game had been in Baton Rouge, that's one thing. But losing at home in the manner in which the Tide did, with pitiful special teams, shaky play-calling, spotty offense ? let's just say that unless a bunch of teams lose, Alabama isn't going to be able to talk about getting a rematch with LSU.
[Photo gallery: LSU tops Alabama in OT]
Oklahoma State's defense is not title-worthy. The Cowboys can score on anybody. They have big-time skill-position talent, a physical offensive line and a savvy play-caller. But when you look at the other side of the ball, you see a unit that - as usual for the Cowboys - falls way short of the offense. Oklahoma State will be in the national title game if it wins out. But can the Cowboys even get there? You have to think Oklahoma offensive coaches already are smiling at the thought of going against that defense on Dec. 3 in the "Bedlam Game."
Northwestern can indeed play defense. Northwestern was in danger of missing the postseason because of a defense that had allowed at least 34 points in each of its first five Big Ten games, but the Wildcats finally proved they could stop someone Saturday while pulling off a 28-25 upset at Nebraska. The Huskers scored three points in the first 41 minutes of the game and got to the 25-point mark only after scoring a touchdown with 18 seconds left. The Wildcats did a great job of containing TB Rex Burkhead, who had rushed for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. Burkhead ran for 69 yards on 22 carries against Northwestern (4-5), which can become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season by winning two of its remaining three games: Saturday vs. Rice, Nov. 19 vs. Minnesota and Nov. 26 at Michigan State.
[Megargee: Winners and losers: Sooners back in hunt]
North Carolina State still has North Carolina's number. Russell Wilson justifiably got much of the credit for North Carolina State's recent domination of North Carolina. Wilson had thrown a combined eight touchdown passes with only one interception while leading the Wolfpack to victories over North Carolina in each of the past three seasons. But the Wolfpack managed to win their fifth game in a row in this in-state rivalry Saturday at the same time that Wilson was leading Wisconsin to a victory over Purdue. Now that Wilson has taken his act to the Big Ten, NCSU relied on its defense against the Tar Heels this season. North Carolina State entered the weekend ranked 82nd nationally in scoring defense, but the Wolfpack allowed just 165 total yards Saturday in a 13-0 victory. It was the Wolfpack's first shutout since a 14-0 triumph over USF in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Mike Huguenin's Week 10 awards
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