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October 28, 2007

Oregon, Arizona State take control

It took two months, but there's finally some stability at the top of the college football world.

Say what you want about the merits of the top ranked teams, but they just keep winning. For the first time since the fourth week of the season, the top seven (plus Kansas) teams in the polls avoided upsets.

No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Boston College, No. 5 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona State all passed big tests this week. No. 6 West Virginia and undefeated Kansas also kept pace by winning conference road games. Some teams' victories were uglier (Boston College) than others, but a win is a win especially this year.

Even if there weren't any upsets, there were a few surprises. On a day when Ohio State allowed only one offensive touchdown, the Buckeyes' offense stole the show. Todd Boeckman and Chris Wells had little trouble with Penn State.

On the West Coast, Oregon's defense held USC to a season-low 17 points. In improving to 8-0, Kansas needed to win in Texas for the first time since 2001.

Teams of the Week: Oregon and Arizona State

USC is out of the national title hunt - and likely out of the Pac-10 race, too. Oregon's 24-17 win over the Trojans and ASU's win against Cal set up a huge conference showdown in Eugene on Saturday. The Ducks' backfield is among the most versatile in the nation. Dennis Dixon is a run/pass threat, and Jonathan Stewart runs over opponents on one play and makes leaping catches the next. Arizona State, though, would like to remind you that the Sun Devils are the only undefeated team the Pac-10. Arizona State rallied from another two-score first-quarter deficit to beat the Bears 31-20.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: The Ducks' Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart have simply stepped up their games in the absence of running back Jeremiah Johnson and receivers Brian Paysinger and Cameron Colvin. Against Cal, Arizona State didn't miss Ryan Torain at all. Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance combined for 85 carries for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Compare that to USC and UCLA. The Trojans' offense has been ravaged by injuries all year, while UCLA's two scholarship quarterbacks have been in and out of the lineup.

Breakout: Don't count out West Virginia in the national title hunt. The Mountaineers have their future in their hands thanks to Steve Slaton (73 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and Pat White (156 rushing yards and a touchdown, 144 passing yards). Slaton's sideline-to-sideline touchdown run for 38 yards was a thing of beauty, but so was the West Virginia defense. Rutgers got 142 yards from Ray Rice but little else in a 31-3 loss. Also helping West Virginia is South Florida's loss to Connecticut and Mississippi State's win over Kentucky. The Mountaineers routed the Bulldogs 38-13 last week.

What you might have missed
Boise State will keep its run going for a few more years, even after Ian Johnson leaves. Freshmen Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper combined for 277 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-21 win over Fresno State. They played in place of Johnson, who was out with a bruised kidney.
Never mind that neither team is likely to make a bowl game, Arizona and Washington put on a show. Willie Tuitama led the Wildcats to 22 fourth-quarter points in a 48-41 win. Tuitama passed for a school-record 510 yards and five touchdowns for the comeback. Freshman Jake Locker continues to improve each week despite a six-game losing streak. Locker passed for 336 yards and rushed for 157.
Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett became the SEC's career receiving leader with a 7-yard catch in the first quarter. The junior has 209 career catches.
How short-lived will Turner Gill's tenure be at Buffalo? Nebraska interim athletic director Tom Osborne might be the one to decide that. After defeating Akron 26-10, Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback, has Buffalo leading the MAC Eastern Division at 4-1.
There's not much more Matt Forte can do for Tulane. With 278 rushing yards against Memphis, Forte has four consecutive 200-yard games. However, Tulane has lost three of those games, including a 28-27 defeat Saturday.
Navy hasn't been a national power for some time, but the Midshipmen haven't suffered the kind of loss they did against Division I-AA Delaware, either. Navy allowed 581 total yards in a 59-52 loss to the Blue Hens. Just for perspective: This is the most points in a Navy game since the Midshipmen beat something called Colby 121-0 in 1919.
Sick stats (Division I-A): Toledo put up 812 yards in a 70-21 win over Northern Illinois. That's 430 passing yards and 382 rushing yards.
Sick stats (all divisions): Division I-AA Weber State defeated Portland State 73-68 to set an NCAA all-division record for total points in a game. The previous record was 136 points when Division III North Park beat North Central 104-32. There's a punchline here somewhere, considering Portland State coach Jerry Glanville was Hawaii's defensive coordinator last year.

Breakout: Speaking of Mississippi State, how about Sylvester Croom for SEC coach of the year? Croom beat the likely front-runner (Rich Brooks) on the road by a score of 31-14 on Saturday. Croom inherited a mess of a program in 2004 and has Mississippi State one win from bowl eligibility with home games against Alabama and Ole Miss and a road trip to Arkansas remaining on the schedule.

Breakdown: Kentucky's off week comes about two weeks too late. A 1-2 stretch against South Carolina, LSU and Florida took its toll this week. In the loss to Mississippi State, the Wildcats were missing Keenan Burton, Tony Dixon and Rafael Little because of injuries.

Breakdown: If you're trying to make sense of the SEC East, just stop right now. With Florida and South Carolina losing, Tennessee now controls its destiny the division after its 27-24 win in overtime over the Gamecocks. Phillip Fulmer shows tremendous dexterity for a big man. No one jumps off and on the hot seat quite like the Tennessee coach even within the span of one game.

Breakout: Not the prettiest move of the day, but it worked. Mark Richt, one of the more stoic coaches in the country, stepped out of character by encouraging Georgia to show some emotion after its first touchdown against Florida on Saturday. The result was his entire team leaving the sideline to celebrate the Bulldogs' first score of the game. It resulted in two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that forced Georgia to kick off from the 8-yard line, but it clearly set the tone for the rest of the day. The Bulldogs defeated Florida for only the third time in 18 years. Remember, this is the same coach who criticized his team two weeks ago for stomping on the Vanderbilt logo following a 20-17 win.

Breakdown: Florida's lackluster defense and its over-reliance on Tim Tebow finally caught up with the Gators. With a bruised non-throwing shoulder, Tebow needed to be protected. The results were mixed. Though Tebow didn't run the ball until the final 30 seconds of the first half, he was sacked four times before that play. With 10 carries for 97 yards, Percy Harvin got more involved in the run game, but true running backs Kestahn Moore and Brandon James were once again ineffective. As for the defense, Georgia continued what Kentucky started and piled on with 413 yards. Other than a Wondy Pierre-Louis interception for a touchdown, the Gators didn't have the big plays to counter Georgia as they did against Kentucky.

Breakout: Say hello to Connecticut, the new Big East flavor of the week. The Huskies (6-1) shook off criticism of their soft early schedule with back-to-back wins over Louisville and South Florida. If Connecticut's run is to continue, it will largely depend on the defense. A week after intercepting Brian Brohm three times, Connecticut held strong when it needed to against USF. South Florida scored only twice in five trips to the red zone. On USF's final possession, the Bulls ran six plays in red zone, but the Huskies held on for the 22-15 win.

Breakdown: South Florida started 6-0 and was ranked as high as No. 2 in spite of sloppy play, but the breaks are no longer going South Florida's way. The Bulls survived missed field goals against Auburn, turnovers against West Virginia and playing down to an opponent against Florida Atlantic. Now these problems and others are rearing their ugly heads. The Bulls committed 10 penalties for a loss of 79 yards against Connecticut (after committing 10 for 99 yards in the loss to Rutgers). Two missed field goals and red zone struggles didn't help either.

Breakdown: This is why it's not wise to get too excited about Texas Tech too early. The Red Raiders feasted on weak nonconference competition early, but have found Big 12 play more daunting. Graham Harrell was once ridiculously efficient, but defenses have adjusted to Harrell and freshman Michael Crabtree. Harrell had his second consecutive four-interception game in the 31-26 loss to Colorado.

Breakout: Umm, where has this been for the last three years, Jamaal Charles? Here are a couple of fun notes from Charles' 290-yard, three-touchdown game against Nebraska. His 216 yards in the fourth-quarter would have been a career-high on its own. He passed four former Longhorns on the career rushing list to move into the top 10. He now ranks eighth in school history with 2,721 yards.

Breakdown: Missouri was dealt a huge blow in its hopes to go to the Big 12 championship game. Safety Pig Brown, after making 10 tackles in the win over Iowa State, left with a ruptured Achilles tendon. That's a major setback for a Tigers defense that is starting to match the offense.

Breakout: Big Ten running backs not named Mike Hart or P.J. Hill. The "other" backs of the Big Ten had huge days: Purdue's Jaycen Taylor, six weeks removed from a broken arm, had 157 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern. Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State. And in the biggest performance of running backs in a Big Ten game, Iowa's Albert Young ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the Hawkeyes' 34-27 win in double overtime over Michigan State. The Spartans' Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer combined for 148 yards and three TDs.

Breakout Former Green Bay Packers assistant Jeff Jagodzinski is not coaching conservatively at Boston College. Trailing 10-7, he could have kicked deep with a little more than two minutes left to put the ball in the hands of Virginia Tech's sputtering offense. He could have run the ball when the Eagles took the ball to the 14 to set up a field-goal attempt that could have tied the game. Instead, he played to win - and Boston College won. Judging by Jagodzinski's high-stepping on the sideline and chest bump with Matt Ryan after the game-winning score, Jogodzinski looks like he's having fun.

Breakdown: Virginia's 29-24 loss to NC State should come as no surprise. The Cavaliers teetered between winning and losing all year, whether the opponent is Maryland or Middle Tennessee State. Throw in two coaches in Al Groh and Tom O'Brien who play in a ton of close games, and you have the Wolfpack winning in the fourth quarter.

Quote of the weekend

"I told them if they didn't get a penalty for celebrating after the first score I would be mad at them."

- Georgia coach Mark Richt in a halftime interview with CBS on his entire team leaving the sideline following Georgia's first touchdown against Florida.

Stat that counts: 6:18

That is the touchdown-to-interception ratio for Connecticut's opponents this year. The Huskies (7-1) picked off Matt Grothe twice in a 22-15 win Saturday to take a 3-0 lead in the Big East standings.

All eyes on ...

Arizona State at Oregon: Will this be a Pac-10 semifinal? What about a national semifinal?

LSU at Alabama: The Saban Bowl could decide a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

Missouri at Colorado: The Buffaloes again get the chance to play the role of Big 12 spoiler.

Top Performers
Jamaal Charles, Texas
33 carries, 290 yards, three touchdowns in 28-25 win over Nebraska
Touchdown runs of 25, 86 and 40 yards in the fourth quarter saved Texas from a loss.
Matt Forte, Tulane
44 carries, 278 yards, two touchdowns in 28-27 loss to Memphis
Forte breaks more records this week: School records for carries in a game and rushing yards in a season (1,539)
Dwight Tardy, Washington State
37 carries, 214 yards, two touchdowns in 27-7 win over UCLA
The most yards by a Cougar since Jerome Harrison in 2005.
Anthony Alridge, Houston
27 carries, 204 yards in 34-31 win over UTEP
Topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Kalvin McRae, Ohio
42 carries, 200 yards, three touchdowns in 38-27 win over Bowling Green
He broke school rushing record and posted his third 1,000-yard season.
Willie Tuitama, Arizona
38 of 51, 510 yards, five touchdowns in 48-41 win over Washington
Led Wildcats to a 22-point fourth quarter.
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
46 of 62, 431 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions in 31-26 loss to Colorado
A ton of yards, but Harrell has thrown eight interceptions in his last two games.
Colt Brennan, Hawaii
28 of 45, 416 yards, six touchdowns, one interception in 50-13 win over New Mexico State
Brennan is happy to be off the mainland after a rough trip to San Jose State.
Aaron Opelt, Toledo
22 of 28, 387 yards, three touchdowns in 70-21 win over Northern Illinois
His day was part of an 812-yard performance for the Rockets.
Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan
33 of 43, 359 yards, three touchdowns, one interception in 41-32 win over Kent State
Keeps Central Michigan undefeated in the MAC
Donald Bowens, NC State
11 receptions, 202 yards, two touchdowns in 29-24 win over Virginia
Broke 200 receiving yards in only his second career start
Ryan Grice-Mullen, Hawaii
13 receptions, 195 yards, three touchdowns in 50-13 win over New Mexico State
Posted double-digit receptions for the second consecutive game.
Marcel Reece, Washington
Five receptions, 166 yards, touchdown in 48-41 loss to Arizona
Career day included a 98-yard touchdown catch.
Mike Thomas, Arizona
Ten receptions, 165 yards, three touchdowns in 48-41 win over Washington
Thomas caught two touchdown passes in 22-point fourth quarter for Arizona.
Mario Manningham, Michigan
Five receptions, 162 yards, touchdown in 34-10 over Minnesota
Set career high without quarterback Chad Henne.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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