On this day in college football, a win is a win
It seemed certain that Saturday was going to be THE day — with the three top-ranked schools all trailing inferior opponents.
Wasn’t it a kick … and if only Cal had made one.
Wisconsin got so excited about possibly sneaking back into the national title chase that it scored 83 points against Indiana in Madison, the Badgers thinking maybe they could impress BCS computer judges who haven’t been able to use margin of victory in their formulas since 2001.
So that 74-yard scoring pass in the fourth, leading only 69-13, was all for bratwurst, even though Indiana Coach Bill Lynch took it like a man.
“That’s our job: to stop them,” he said.
Get-back-in-the-hunt day, it turned out, was just a daylong tease:
No. 3 Texas Christian, two games from regular-season perfection, spotted San Diego State a 14-point lead in Fort Worth, went on a scoring spree, then had to hold on for a 40-35 win.
No. 2 Auburn, with quarterback Cam Newton under siege and finally finding some peace — on the field — spotted Georgia a 21-7 lead but ended up winning, 49-31.
And then for the nightcap thriller:
No. 1 Oregon trailed California, 7-0, in the first half and then watched an eight-point second half lead sliced to 15-13 after Cal recovered a third-quarter fumble in the end zone.
That ended up being the final score.
Oregon, which averaged a nation-leading 54 points, managed one offensive touchdown and ran back to Eugene with a two-point victory.
“We won,” Oregon Coach Chip Kelly chirped in postgame comments to Versus. “That’s all we care about.”
Cal’s chance for an epic upset was tortuously denied when kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 29-yard field goal. He had actually made his first attempt, only to be called for illegal motion for taking a stutter-step before the snap.
We had a strange feeling this game was a Bear trap game for Oregon, if only because Cal was 4-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. And Cal really threw Oregon off balance by somehow managing to come up with an uglier uniform combination.
What will it take for Cal to become, or defeat, a No. 1?
In 2007, on the same field, Cal was yards from becoming No. 1 for the first time since the early 1950s when the clock ran out before the Bears could get to the end zone against Oregon State.
Saturday’s loss to Oregon ran Cal’s record to 0-11 against top-ranked schools.
Upset was in the air, but no one grabbed it — even No. 7 Stanford needed a late touchdown to beat Arizona State.
Oregon is to 10-0 and should not be harmed in the big picture as a top undefeated team in a top conference. Pollsters are more lenient to the privileged children. Who even remembers Auburn almost lost to Clemson earlier this year?
Forgiveness may not be as easily dispensed in the baby-brother battle between undefeated TCU and Boise State, jockeying for a possible title-berth position should Oregon or Auburn fall.
TCU impressed everyone last week when it blasted No. 5 Utah in Salt Lake City. The Horned Frogs jumped Boise State into third in the Bowl Championships Series standings even though Boise, the same day, beat Hawaii by 35 points.
This week, a day after Boise State scored an emphatic 52-14 win at Idaho, TCU struggled at bit at home while Utah got blown out at Notre Dame.
The question: Will Boise State jump back over TCU?
The story of the day, though, was down South, where Auburn elected to start Newton against Georgia despite swirling speculation about his eligibility.
It seems pretty clear now somebody tried to pay somebody off for the junior-college rights to Newton, but there has been no direct link to Auburn or its star player.
In college ball, the motto is: Win first and ask questions later. Even USC, hammered by the NCAA infractions committee in June, got to keep its 2004 Associated Press national title.
The atmosphere at Jordan-Hare was so frenetic for Georgia-Auburn that CBS announcer Verne Lundquist needed someone to mop his forehead.
Lundquist said there were enough story lines “to fill a bathtub,” but what everyone involved in the Newton saga probably needed more was a shower.
As reports about pay-for-play leaked out, Auburn’s stance on Newton’s case went from righteous indignation Tuesday to “no comment” Friday, but there was really no sense sitting him with a possible national title at stake.
The game, well, it was super. Georgia, remember, is a team that lost at Colorado.
Georgia charged out to 21-7 lead but then got outscored 42-10.
Everything Newton does these days is being investigated. His first touchdown run, a 31-yard race around right end, was upheld after a review from the instant replay booth.
“I know there’s going to be questions about Cameron Newton tonight,” Auburn Gene Chizik said during his opening postgame remarks.
And then he refused to answer any of them.
Newton was his usual brilliant self, a human torpedo. He carried 30 times for 151 yards and two scores and also passed for two scores.
The Heisman Trophy appears to be his to lose … we just hope he doesn’t lose it again in two years.
And the fact the mighty did not fall on Saturday does not mean this race is over.
Auburn won the SEC West on Saturday and clinched a spot in the SEC title game against three-loss South Carolina.
Before that, however, Auburn faces Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 26.
It’s not over yet — but we’re running out of weekends.