Bowl season begins with the unheralded and unranked, but features several tight pre-Christmas matchups.
02 Nov 2009
by Robert Weintraub
The Kelly Gang was a group of fabled Australian Outback outlaws, led by Ned Kelly, who defied colonial authorities and were hanged for their troubles in the late-19th century. This season is all about the Kelly Gang -- specifically, coaches Brian and Chip Kelly, of Cincinnati and Oregon, respectively. The two were afterthoughts headed into the year. Now they're headed for a Coach of the Year Award showdown, and, almost certainly, the BCS.
Both replaced well-thought-of coaches: Chip took over this fall for Mike Bellotti, Brian took over in 2006 to replace Mark Dantonio, who left for the green (if not greener pastures) of Michigan State. Both are poised to outdo their predecessor's greatest hits. Chip's Ducks were by far the weekend's most impressive squad, laying a 47-20 whipping on USC -- an unprecedented defeat in the Pete Carroll era (for perspective, all eight of USC's losses, dating back to 2003, have been by 29 points combined). Nothing fluky here, folks -- just total control by Oregon's unheralded but effective offensive line, and a canny game plan executed to perfection.
It was Deja Q for the Trojans -- RB LaMichael James went all JacQuizz Rodgers on the Trojans. Quizz scatbacked for 186 yards and a pair of scores on USC in last season's huge upset in Corvallis. Saturday, 50 miles or so south in Eugene, James squirted, dashed, and powered for 183 yards, albeit with only one touchdown. USC had no answer for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, either. Masoli was no bullfrog early in the season, regressing badly and battling injury, but he has come on strong as the Ducks have turned their season around. Masoli gashed the once-proud Men of Troy for 222 yards in the air and an absurd 164 on the ground. If a Pac-10 squad was finally going to stage a coup d'etat on the USC monarchy and seize the conference title, this was the way to do it -- the Trojans went out like the Romanovs.
Meanwhile, the beat went on for Brian Kelly's Bearcats -- with a twist. Starting quarterback Tony Pike, who has gotten some Heisman mention in this star-free season, sat out with an injured wing. His backup, Zach Collaros, may just have Wally Pipped Pike, throwing four touchdowns in the Carrier Dome in a comfy 28-7 whipping of lowly Syracuse. That makes nine touchdowns to only a single pick for Collaros. Pike may have to shave his ‘stache to prove his worthiness and regain his position.
Cincy is 8-0 for the first time since 1954, although that year they lost their final two games to tumble out the championship race. Fifty-five years later, it looks like the season finale at Pitt will be for the Big East title. The Panthers are good, but you can't spell Bearcats without BCS.
At the top of the table, Florida finally resembled Florida! in laying waste to Georgia, 41-17, sending thousands of weeping Bulldog fans north along the Trail of Tears (aka Interstate 95) back across the state line. Not only did UGA put up little fight against its archrival, it allowed Tim Tebow to break Herschel Walker's SEC touchdown record against its defense. At least three of Walker personalities are reported to be very upset.
Barring a sizable stunner, and assuming it gets by Alabama in the Georgia Dome in December, Florida's opponent in the BCS title fight will be Texas. At least the Longhorns looked the part, at last, stomping on Oklahoma State and all of T. Boone's windmills to boot. Texas' secondary has been unsung, but they have some serious ballhawkers back there, including many of the folks branded as goats last season after the Texas Tech nightmare. This year, the Longhorns' defensive backs are more like the Men Who Stare At Goats (read the book, forget the Clooney flick). Texas picked off Zac Robinson four times on Saturday.
Still, it was a turnover that wasn't that turned the tide -- having finally scored to cut the Texas lead to 17-7 late in the first half, Oklahoma State appeared to rip the ball away from receiver James Kirkendoll. A subsequent score would have changed the game, but the officials missed the fumble, and Colt McCoy put Texas in the end zone before halftime instead. All the lasso went out of the Cowboys' rope after that.
Speaking of rope, Indiana found a way to hang itself, instead of completing a deserved upset and perfect season-kibosh against Iowa. You have to look high and far in the annals to find a quarterback throwing five picks and winning 42-24, yet that's just what Hawkeye hurler Ricky Stanzi managed, thanks to some huge fourth-quarter breakdowns by the Hoosiers. Give Iowa credit for taking advantage, yet I still find it hard to believe in them. Awhile back I compared them to the Ohio State “Luckeyes” from early in the decade -- except Iowa isn't nearly as talented. The turning point Saturday came thanks to the replay official, who (incorrectly, in my view) overturned an apparent touchdown that would have given the Hoosiers a 14-point lead. Instead, they missed a field goal, and the stage was set for an epic collapse.
The Hawkeyes have ironically had the luck of the Irish, considering they don't have a coach named Kelly. But they shouldn't be ranked ahead of either Oregon or Cincinnati.
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