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November 22, 2008

Saturday's winners and losers

The games in the run-up to Texas Tech-Oklahoma didn't have any national championship implications, but they weren't short on drama.

It was a ho-hum day for the nation's top teams. Three of the top six teams in the BCS had the week off. Florida probably could have taken the day off, beating The Citadel 70-19. In the Big Ten, Penn State and Ohio State had little trouble with the state of Michigan.

Intrigue still was easy to find outside of the top 10. Syracuse, Tennessee, Purdue and Kansas State won games for their outgoing coaches. Facing the worst major-conference team in the nation, Washington could not.

WINNERS

Oklahoma: The Sooners treated Texas Tech as if the Red Raiders were a bad high school team, not the No. 2 team in the BCS. OU dominated from the first series offensively and defensively and put themselves squarely in the national title picture with the 65-21 romp. The Sooners' defensive front was especially impressive.

Utah: The Utes finished off a 12-0 regular season with a rout of archrival BYU. The defense had some problems in the first half, but eventually settled down and made life miserable for BYU quarterback Max Hall. Next up for the Utes: a second BCS berth in five seasons, likely in the Sugar Bowl.

Oregon State: The Beavers' improbable run to the Rose Bowl continues, though it wasn't without some twists and turns. Star tailback Jacquizz Rodgers was injured in the first quarter, the Beavers fell behind in the fourth quarter and an extra-point attempt was missed late in the fourth period. No matter the Beavers remained calm throughout and beat Arizona on a last-play field goal. Next is a visit from archrival Oregon in the "Civil War" with a trip to Pasadena on the line for the Beavers.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats outlasted Pittsburgh 28-21, putting them just a win away from the Big East's automatic BCS bid. The Bearcats play Syracuse next week, with a victory likely putting them in the Orange Bowl. Now the only question is whether coach Brian Kelly will be poached by another program.

Myron Rolle: Rolle, a junior strong safety for Florida State, missed most of the first half of the Seminoles' easy victory at Maryland. He had a good excuse: He was involved in the Rhodes Scholar selection process in Birmingham, Ala. Before leaving the meeting, he learned he had been selected, then was able to get to College Park, Md., before halftime.

Abilene Christian: The Wildcats set a record for points in an NCAA playoff game, beating West Texas A&M 93-68 in the Division II playoffs. Abilene Christian rolled up 810 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on 13 of 14 possessions. The only time the Wildcats didn't score was when they missed a field goal on their second possession. The 161 combined points and the 1,531 yards of combined offense also set records.

Pat White. West Virginia's quarterback reminded everyone that he is one of the most exciting players in the nation with a vintage performance against Louisville. White rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns, including a 66-yarder. He also was 6-of-11 for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Noel Devine added 154 yards. Between the two, they averaged 10.4 yards per carry. With 4,292 career rushing yards, White, a senior, broke the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback held by Missouri's Brad Smith.

Russell Wilson. N.C. State's redshirt freshman quarterback ended archrival North Carolina's ACC championship hopes with a two-touchdown swing in 14 seconds in the third quarter. Wilson converted a fourth-down on a pass play, set up a touchdown run with a 26-yard run and passed for the second touchdown after a North Carolina turnover. Wilson has led NCSU to three consecutive wins, has thrown two TD passes in five consecutive games and hasn't thrown a pick since Sept. 13. If NCSU beats visiting Miami next week, the Wolfpack will be bowl-eligible.

Dabo Swinney . Clemson was one of the few teams out of the ACC title race at the start of the day Saturday, but don't ignore the subtle turnaround under the Tigers' interim coach. The Tigers' 13-3 win over Virginia brings Swinney's record to 3-2. The interim coach can exceed Tommy Bowden's win total this year by beating South Carolina next week; a victory over the Gamecocks likely would seal a bowl bid, too.

Ole Miss. Houston Nutt has led the best turnaround in the SEC outside of Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss improved to 7-4 with a 31-13 rout of LSU in Baton Rouge. The Rebels will go 4-1 in the SEC West by beating rival Mississippi State next week. The Rebels lost to Alabama but won at Florida.

Joe Tiller. Tiller rebuilt Purdue's program and went out a winner. The Boilermakers drilled rival Indiana 62-10 for the Old Oaken Bucket. Tiller won a school-record 87 games in 12 seasons at Purdue and is handing the program over to Danny Hope.

Phillip Fulmer. Tennessee avoided embarrassing itself any further in Fulmer's final games by defeating Vanderbilt for the 25th time in 26 years. Tennessee lost to Wyoming two weeks ago, but Fulmer has a chance to end his final season the way he's ended so many others with wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The Apple Cup. Week after week, this game looked more like a punchline. It actually turned out to be an exciting game, even if it wasn't played too sharply. Washington State kicked a game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation, then won in the second overtime. After the win, Cougars coach Paul Wulff galloped from the sideline, arms flailing, to his team's pileup at midfield. The outburst has been a longtime coming for a program that had lost all of its Pac-10 games by at least 25 points.

LOSERS

Texas Tech: Talk about laying an egg. The Red Raiders looked overmatched on both sides of the ball from the opening possession. The Cotton Bowl beckons.

Graham Harrell: Texas Tech's quarterback was, arguably, the Heisman frontrunner going into the game with OU. Now? He might finish fourth or fifth. No matter what he does in the regular-season finale against Baylor and no matter what he has done already it's going to be hard for voters to forget the stench emanating from Saturday night's beatdown. OU put consistent pressure on Harrell, and he wilted badly.

UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels were one victory from bowl eligibility, and all they had to do was beat San Diego State that's 1-10 San Diego State. Alas, UNLV was whipped and lost their 19th consecutive Mountain West Conference road game.

Minnesota: Remember that 7-1 start? Well, it has all but been erased by a 0-4 finish, including a 55-0 hammering at the hands of Iowa on Saturday. It was a fitting finale for the Metrodome as the Golden Gophers' home field.

Charlie Weis. His Notre Dame team blew a 23-10 lead and lost to Syracuse, which had fired its coach earlier in the week, 24-23 at home. Any remaining goodwill for Weis might be gone after this one. Notre Dame rushed for only 41 yards, and Syracuse scored two touchdowns in the final quarter.

Michigan State. Mark Dantonio has changed the culture in East Lansing, but it's clear Michigan State is lagging way behind the conference's best teams. The Spartans weren't competitive against Penn State and Ohio State this season, losing by a combined score of 94-25 after getting flailed by the Nittany Lions on Saturday.

Illinois and Wisconsin. Illinois has gone from the Rose Bowl to no bowl after losing 27-10 to Northwestern. Cal Poly led Wisconsin for most of Saturday's game before the Badgers' 36-35 win in overtime; Cal Poly missed three extra points, including one after its overtime touchdown. Wisconsin has gone 11-9 in its past 20 games, while Illinois is the first Rose Bowl team to miss the postseason the next season since the Pac-10's Stanford in 2000.

Louisville. If Louisville played with the same spark they've shown in pre-game squabbles, the Cardinals would have wrapped up a bowl bid. For the second week in a row, Louisville was irked with its opponent before the game. Against West Virginia, the dispute led to a scuffle between the teams at midfield during pregame warm-ups. Louisville was spirited throughout the game but still lost its fourth game in a row. The Cardinals must defeat Rutgers, winner of five consecutive games, next week to be bowl eligible.

Michigan. The rout was no surprise, but Michigan sealed its fifth consecutive loss to Ohio State as soon as it touched the ball. The Wolverines intercepted Terrelle Pryor to start their first possession at Ohio State's 13. Michigan's beleaguered and beat-up offense self-destructed and couldn't even manage a field goal. The 42-7 loss sealed a 3-9 season for Michigan; it's the most losses in school history for the Wolverines.

North Carolina quarterbacks. Quarterbacks weren't North Carolina's only problems against N.C. State, but they sure didn't help. Butch Davis re-opened the competition between former starter T.J. Yates and Cameron Sexton, who had the hot hand in four wins. Neither was effective against the Wolfpack. Yates started and was 10-of-22 with a pick. Sexton entered the game in the fourth quarter and threw two picks.

Quarterbacks in Nashville. Six players lined up at quarterback in Tennessee's win over Vanderbilt. It was tough to get excited about any of them. Tennessee played four. Jonathan Crompton threw an interception. Redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman accounted for a robust 37 total yards. Wide receiver Gerald Jones played his usual role in the G-Gun. Strong safety Eric Berry took some snaps but made his biggest contribution on an interception return for a touchdown. Those four still were better than Vanderbilt's quarterbacks. A week after an outstanding performance against Kentucky, Chris Nickson was awful against Tennessee, going 2-of-7 and turning the ball over three times before being benched in favor of MacKenzi Adams. As for Vandy, it lost at home to the Vols in what has been Tennessee's worst season ever.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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