Yesterday was a hellacious one for the Top 25 as some twelve teams stood on the edge of season destruction. From the top five to the bottom of the rankings there were plenty of squads toeing the line between between being upset and escaping by the skin of their teeth. We can call it Black Saturday because it was, without a doubt, the most grim dose of heartbreak that the nation's elite have seen this season.
As it stands six BCS Top 25 teams went down this weekend and six more were pushed to the brink. It was an exciting day that saw the races in the ACC, Big East, SEC and Big XII clear up and the sprints in the Pac 10 and Big 10 get muddier for the stretch run. Colored by injuries, big plays and marquee performances today was another banner day for the greatest time of the year.
This Black Saturday, told us what we already knew about teams and answered some of our questions about the Top 25. Here are the six eye openers that punctuated the day:
#22 Notre Dame 21
For the anti-Notre Dame contingent out there a collective sigh of relief was emitted yesterday evening as the Midshipmen held off the Fighting Irish to claim their second straight win in South Bend. The Irish defense gave up 348 yards on the ground to the undersized, scrappy Navy squad and while their offense amassed 512 total yards ND was bitten by the turnover bug.
Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate had huge stat days but didn't get started going until late and by that time Navy had built a 21-7 lead and never looked back. Clausen's fumble at the goal line helped halt Irish's attempt to pull within one touchdown at the close of the third and the sack and safety of Clausen with one minute left sealed the game.
On the national scale Notre Dame is essentially eliminated from being invited to a BCS Bowl game. The MWC and WAC are celebrating now as their possibly slot isn't bullied by the Irish's presence. On the local scale in South Bend there are three prominent figures who will likely make exits at the season's end. In a positive light Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen are likely NFL bound as their stock is sky rocketing.
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More negatively is the way that Coach Charlie Weis maybe exiting the stage. Three losses during a soft schedule, two to unranked teams, with surging Pitt and Stanford remaining on the schedule could spell the end for Weis. The natives are restless and that fact, coupled with the underachievement of Weis and the improvements brought on by the infusion of personality and recruiting work horse coaches at Alabama, Florida, Cincinnati and now Tennessee and Washington there has to exist a sense of "Coaching Envy."
The Hawkeyes looked to be getting out to their first truly blow out win of the season as they scored 10 quick points early and were in full command of the game. Then, the one thing that could not happen for Ferentz happened; quarterback and part time wizard Ricky Stanzi went down. Not only did the senior give up a fumble for a touchdown; the Hawkeyes have overcome Stanzi's turnover woes before. No, on that same play Stanzi went down with an ankle injury that would disallow for his heroic return to the field at Kinnick Stadium.
We learned that while Iowa has overcome the loss of running backs, receivers and huge turnovers, they are incapable of overcoming the loss of their leader. James Vandeberg, a redshirt freshman, couldn't move the Iowa offense and the Hawkeyes turned the football over 3 more times after Stanzi's departure. The Wildcats capitalized on the short fields and while the Iowa defense played valiantly their effort was not matched by the offense.
#11 Penn State 7
The "Terrelle Crier" shirts had no effect as the #11 Nittany Lions were roasted by the #16 Buckeyes by 17 points. Penn State's Rose Bowl hopes are dashed and Jim Tressel's unit is now back in the Big 10 drivers seat despite losing to Purdue. Neither teams offense truly hit their stride but Terrelle Pryor was able to three touchdowns, two through the air and no interceptions en route to the win.
Daryll Clark, the senior, was expected to show his skills after being embarrassed against the Big 10's other elite defense, Iowa. Ohio State flustered the veteran, forced him into an interception and held the Nittany Lions to just 76 rushing yards. On the other hand Penn State's fifth ranked defense was beaten up by the Buckeyes to the tune of 228 yards on the ground. All in all it was an Ohio State beat down.
For the Big 10 this means Ohio State once again controls their own destiny. With Iowa coming up this Saturday and Ricky Stanzi not likely to play their is a strong chance that the Buckeyes will own their fifth straight Big 10 Title and third outright in four years.
The Cal Bears appeared to be hitting their stride again as they were on a three game win streak and were again putting up the points that pundits expected them to from the season's beginning. Kevin Riley was doing a satisfactory job at quarterback and tailback Jahvid Best was flexing his muscle. Then as they were fighting back to within a score early in the game, everything went scary bad.
Jahvid Best is out with a concussion, his second in eight days, and he will definitely be out for the Arizona game this coming Saturday. As a guy who has had a very similar concussion, right down to the extremities locking out, unconsciousness and spine boarding, my advice to Best is to take it slow. The brain is a fragile tool and, if you read this blog regularly, concussions severely affect your mental faculties. On the serious note I hope he takes his time to heal and makes an intelligent decision about his future.
Football-wise we learned that the Rodgers brothers are the heart and soul of Oregon and that without Jahvid Best the Bears are merely an average team at best. Their defense is pedestrian and incapable of stopping teams when the onus is placed upon them. Mike Riley's defense, isn't necessarily stellar but without Best the Beavers were able to shut down Tedford's attack and hold them to just 239 yards of offense.
People spoke of the USC hangover. The fact that Oregon, coming off possibly the biggest win in program history, would be too fat and happy to get up for the "lowly Cardinal" team from Stanford. That after playing the future-NFL packed roster they wouldn't be geeked up to take on Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart.
Those people were right.
The Ducks clearly woke up late on their trip to Palo Alto and were down 31-14 at the half. While Jeremiah Masoli and the Ducks' offense woke up and poured in 28 second half points but the defense was never able to corral Gerhart who rumbled for a Stanford record 223 yards and 3 touchdowns. The team that stopped USC's four and five star recruit fueled attack but were punch-less against the three star kid with the robot knee brace from Norco, California.
With the loss Oregon falls back to the pack. They're tied with the Arizona and Stanford, Southern Cal and Oregon State are within one game and both 'Zona and the Beavers remain on the Ducks schedule. Perhaps Jim Harbaugh isn't crazy for saying Luck is the best quarterback he's seen this season.
In what was once a marquee, must see match up, the Sooners travelled to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers in a largely under the radar contest. Nebraska's feasted on five Landry Jones interceptions, shut down the Sooners rushing attack and Ndamukong Suh and Co. harassed Jones all game. The OU staff's abandoning of the running game in a seven point contest shows me that they're so fat and happy, used to the quick strike that they've forgotten how to drive the football down the field.
58 passing attempts to only 29 rushing attempts is far from balance. Not to take anything away from Nebraska who out physicaled and out muscled the Sooners but a 2:1 pass:run ratio is only acceptable if you're Texas Tech. Not even the Longhorns have such a skewed ratio. Nebraska used the power rushing attack, they got 138 yards from Roy Helu Jr and while the Sooners out-gained Nebraska the Huskers controlled the game with their defense.
After this game the Big XII picture becomes infinitely clearer. The Longhorns are in the drivers seat for the Big XII South Title and OU drops from second to tied for third in the South. The Sooners have dropped to from even the Cotton Bowl to Insight, Holiday or Sun Bowl territory. As for the Big XII North Nebraska keeps pace with the surprising Wildcats of K-State and the Huskers are in control of their own destiny with a K-State showdown looking large on November 21st.