In college football, it’s safer to just stay home
Boise State sat home Saturday while the six other undefeated schools hit the road.
Only two of the home teams hit back, but it was exciting enough to raise a few cackles and reduce to five the pool of unblemished candidates — setting up what could be a November, December and maybe January to remember.
Michigan State and Missouri, undefeated until Saturday, were routed at Iowa and Nebraska, (dis) respectively.
The kings, for now, remain seated and in command.
USC gave No. 1 (in the polls) Oregon a brief palpitation, scoring twice in the third quarter to briefly seize the lead, but the Ducks simply cranked up the volume knob on their offense and left the Coliseum with a 53-32 win and, perhaps, a date with destiny.
Oregon hasn’t had an undefeated season since 1916 but, as they say, there’s always a second time.
USC put up respectable resistance, given Oregon’s penchant for averaging 55 points per game. Scoring twice early in the second half was news because Oregon had outscored its first seven victims, 156-23, after intermission.
Coach Lane Kiffin even made a brilliant tactical pregame decision when his team won the coin toss and he elected to receive the ball first instead of deferring to the second half.
When ESPN’s Erin Andrews asked Kiffin why, he remarked, “Have you seen Oregon’s offense?”
Everyone watching in the country — except for a Midwestern pocket snoring through the Ohio State-Minnesota game — saw it.
Mississippi, led by exiled Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, didn’t have nearly enough defense to beat No. 1 (in the Bowl Championship Series) Auburn at Oxford.
The final score was Auburn 51, Mississippi 31. Ole Miss is now 0-7 all-time against top-rated teams (so now you tell us).
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton did not have huge numbers, rushing for only 45 yards, but he added to his Heisman Trophy resume by throwing two touchdown passes and also catching one. Newton and Oregon’s LaMichael James, who rushed for more than 200 yards in the win over USC, are the clear-cut Heisman leaders heading into November.
Until further notice, Oregon and Auburn appear on track to meet in the Jan. 10 BCS title game. In the BCS, though, the track has a way of moving.
Regarding those undefeated teams that left us:
Nebraska jumped previously 7-0 Missouri with a 24-point first quarter and held on to win 31-17 in Lincoln, and Iowa made pumpkin pie out of previously 8-0 Michigan State with a 37-6 victory in Iowa City (it was 30-0 at the half).
The parting of these seas left Auburn, Oregon, Boise State, Utah and Texas Christian as the last unsullied teams standing, presuming TCU took care of business in a late-night game at Nevada Las Vegas.
Boise State was resting after defeating Louisiana Tech on Tuesday, 49-20, and hosts Hawaii next weekend.
Utah had a near-miss at Air Force but won, 28-23, and now prepares to face TCU next week in Salt Lake City — eliminating one undefeated team from the mix.
It didn’t take long for BCS Nos. 5 and 6 to bow out.
No. 5 Michigan State, off to its best start since 1966, got ear-holed at Iowa City when the Spartans couldn’t recover after spotting the Hawkeyes a measly 30-point lead. Michigan State rallied back from 17-0 down last week at Northwestern but this time fell short by 31.
“We are still an 8-1 football team and that is something that we need to recognize,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said afterward. ". . . Did we come in unprepared? I don’t think so. Did things snowball on us? I guess they did.”
Michigan State was a neat short-season story but needed trick plays to beat Notre Dame and Northwestern and did not leave the state for a game until last weekend.
“I did not see this coming,” Dantonio said.
Missouri was off to its best start since 1960 and coming off a huge home win last week against BCS No. 1 Oklahoma.
Missouri did not get off to its best start Saturday, gushing 24 unanswered first-quarter points against Nebraska.
“They started fast,” Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert said in the day’s understatement.
Missouri rallied to at least make the game interesting, but allowing Nebraska back Roy HeluJr. a school-record 307 yards rushing was never going to be the prescription for success.
Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel would not blame the loss on a post-Oklahoma hangover.
“Nope,” Pinkel said. “That’s an excuse. We got to play big game after big game after big game, and you have to play your very best. And we didn’t play well enough.”
From here on in, undefeated teams that don’t play well enough will share Pinkel’s pain.