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The Georgia Bullddogs' dynamic duo should be on NFL rosters at some point in the next 72 hours. Which will be the better pro? That depends on what kind of running back you're looking for.

18 Sep 2006

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Get Off My Back

by Russell Levine
Lloyd Carr is what's known in Ann Arbor as a "Michigan Man" -- a title that speaks to his having descended from the Bo Schembechler coaching tree. He has spent 26 years on the Michigan staff, the last 12 as head coach. Though he has taken the program to heights never achieved by the legendary "Bo," he has spent the last several seasons fending off calls for his dismissal, a chorus that grew to a crescendo after last season's 7–5 mark.

As the fire under his feet has grown warmer, Carr has grown more aloof. He treats halftime interviews and postgame press conferences as if they were a root canal. Some would say he coaches with a chip on his shoulder.

If that's the case, score one for the old school coach. Carr's team carried that collective chip with it into Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on Saturday, and the result was a three-hour mugging of the Fighting Irish. By the time it was over, Michigan had reclaimed its position among the nation's elite teams, rising to sixth in the AP poll, Notre Dame's national championship aspirations were shelved, and a presumed Heisman run by Irish quarterback Brady Quinn was put in serious doubt.

But the take-away from this game wasn't about the fallout for Notre Dame, nor was it about Michigan's place in the 2006 national-title chase. It was simply a statement by a much-maligned coach that those who would write off the Wolverines as being too staid in their approach to modern football do so at their own risk.

The chief criticism of Carr in recent seasons has to do with his conservative approach. Four of Michigan's five defeats a year ago involved blown fourth-quarter leads, all characterized by a lack of a killer instinct on offense and a passive approach to defense. The Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska was a fitting end to the season, as the Cornhuskers rallied from two scores down in the fourth quarter.

Carr, fiercely loyal to his fellow Michigan Men on the staff, nonetheless invited his two coordinators to seek other opportunities. Mike DeBord returned to the offensive coordinator post he held during the 1997 national championship season, while a dynamic young assistant, Ron English, was promoted to defensive coordinator.

English, in particular, promised to change things. Gone would be the bend-but-don't-break approach favored by his predecessor, Jim Herrmann. The more aggressive approach was evident in Michigan's season-opening wins over Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. English called for blitzes even on obvious passing downs, a strategy that had grown increasingly rare under Herrmann. Against Notre Dame, Michigan's talented front four routinely found their way into the Irish backfield, knocking Quinn off his game early. By the time Notre Dame had its initial first down, the score was 20–7 in the second quarter.

Quinn, who had carved up Penn State the previous week to boost his Heisman campaign, grew so confused from the battering and the twisting, stunting Michigan line that he began to feel a pass rush that wasn't always there. Many of his 24 incompletions were thrown nowhere near their intended targets despite ample time in the pocket.

Michigan's offensive approach was equally aggressive, although it didn't start out that way. After linebacker Prescott Burgess scored with an interception to give Michigan a 7–0 lead in the first minute, the Wolverines forced a three-and-out, then regained possession at midfield. To every Michigan fan's horror, the Wolverines ran off-tackle twice, then watched as quarterback Chad Henne forced a terrible pass that the Fighting Irish intercepted and returned to the Michigan four-yard line, allowing Notre Dame to tie the score.

This was the same conservative approach that had contributed to six consecutive losing efforts in road-openers. But just as Michigan supporters were settling in for a long day, a light went off on the Michigan sideline. After an exchange of punts, Henne threw deep on first down to a wide-open Mario Manningham for a 69-yard score, giving the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.

DeBoard kept attacking throughout the first half, and the result was two more long touchdown throws to Manningham, who looks to be the next great Michigan receiver, following the likes of Anthony Carter, Amani Toomer, David Terrell, and Braylon Edwards. With the lead at 34-14 at halftime, the second half became an exercise in grinding the clock on offense and pummeling Quinn on defense.

Any Michigan observer would have to be blind to miss the change in the Wolverines' approach. Recognizing the weakness in its opponent (the shaky Notre Dame secondary), Michigan attacked it over and over, consequences be damned. Still, the school's shell-shocked fan base can be forgiven for hanging on to its fears. Fans posting to a popular message board in real-time throughout Saturday's game continued to express their doubts even as Michigan held on to its lead deep into the fourth quarter.

The parallels between the 1997 team and this one are obvious. That Michigan squad was coming off four consecutive four-loss seasons and there were plenty of questions about Carr, then an unproven third-year coach. They weren't taken seriously until a late-season road rout of Penn State, perhaps the last Michigan big-game victory that was as complete as Saturday's. This year's squad has announced its intentions to compete for Big Ten and BCS titles by mid-September, but the Wolverines must prove they can handle success.

The first test comes Saturday, in Michigan's conference opener against Wisconsin. In 2003, the Wolverines crushed an overmatched Notre Dame by a 38–0 score, but their stay among the nation's elite lasted all of seven days. A ragged Michigan lost at Oregon in its next outing. The schedule is a bit gentler this time around, with three winnable games (vs. Wisconsin, at Minnesota, vs. Michigan State) before a road trip to Penn State.

For Carr, redemption will last only as long as he keeps winning. Another season-ending loss to Ohio State, which would drop Carr to 1–5 against Jim Tressel, would renew the calls for his head, no matter how unlikely his firing would be.

When Urban Meyer was on the market two off-seasons ago, many Michigan supporters lobbied for the school to sack Carr and pursue the dynamic, young coach who ultimately landed at Florida. What those fans fail to grasp is that Michigan will never hire a coach of Meyer's ilk as long as the living legend, Schembechler, continues to draw breath. Though officially retired, Bo's influence still runs deep in the Michigan athletic department, meaning the next coach of the Wolverines will always be somebody with ties to the program -- a "Michigan Man." A few more days like Saturday and it's an idea that the school's fan base may even come to embrace.

John L. Smith Trophy

There were ample candidates for this week's JLS Trophy, some suggested by readers in the Seventh Day Adventure thread. But I'm going to go off the board and take a look at the weekend's most controversial game: Oklahoma at Oregon.

It's been well covered that Oklahoma basically got hosed by a pair of very dogdy calls as Oregon mounted its late comeback. The fact that both calls could, and should, have been overturned by replay only makes matters more frustrating of OU and its coach, Bob Stoops. However, both Stoops and Oregon coach Mike Bellotti made silly decisions that factored in the outcome.

Once Oregon got the lead, Bellotti elected the squib the kickoff, ostensibly to keep the ball out of Adrian Peterson's hands. But with just a one-point lead and 45 seconds left to play, a squib was a foolish choice. There was enough time left, thanks to the "first-down stops the clock" rule, for Oklahoma to run several plays. When the bouncing kick was picked up at the 20 and returned 56 yards, it looked like Oregon had lost the game.

Except that Stoops trumped Bellotti's bad decision with one of his own. Despite having three weeks to adjust to the new clock rules, Stoops's offense allowed some 10 seconds to tick off the clock before running a play, and that play was a handoff to Peterson. Since OU had no timeouts remaining, they had to scramble to spike the ball with just two seconds remaining. The 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

There's no reason Oklahoma shouldn't have run at least two plays. They still would have had plenty of time to kick, provided they were ready to snap the ball on first down and they threw it at least 10 yards downfield.

For this pair of head-scratchers, Bellotti and Stoops share this week's JLS Trophy.

BlogPoll Ballot

This season, I'll again be voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by MGoBlog. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment -- my rankings may change based upon your suggestions.

Rank Team Delta
1 Ohio State --
2 Auburn --
3 Southern Cal --
4 Michigan 9
5 West Virginia 1
6 Florida 1
7 Georgia 3
8 Louisville 1
9 Louisiana State 4
10 Texas 2
11 Virginia Tech --
12 Oregon --
13 Notre Dame 9
14 Oklahoma --
15 Tennessee 2
16 Nebraska 2
17 TCU 3
18 Boston College 4
19 Clemson 4
20 UCLA 1
21 Cal 3
22 Florida State 7
23 Rutgers 2
24 Boise State 2
25 Arizona State 1

Dropped Out: Miami (Florida) (#16), Texas Tech (#21).

Note: Portions of this article appeared in Monday's edition of the New York Sun.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 18 Sep 2006

40 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2006, 2:17pm by John McQueen


by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 6:36pm

My friend and I were watching the UM/ND game here (another person joined us midway through - he's somewhat neutral but roots against ND) and we shared that feeling: we were pretty sure what the outcome would be but were in constant fear of a comeback.

It was pleasantly surprising to watch Michigan throw the ball deep, especially once it worked. I can't say I remember that happening on a regular basis in the past ... the funny part was that Mark May chose that first TD in his top 5 plays, even though it probably was the "worst" of the three TDs to Manningham (the touch required on the other two made them better passes, IMHO).

I commented on Miami taking an early lead against Louisville and then forcing a turnover: "Looks like it might be a blowout." I was right. I just had the teams wrong.

by savac (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 6:58pm

In the Oregon-OU, on that last series after the good kick return, couldn't OU have spiked the ball immediately on 1st down to stop the clock? Then they could have run 2 more plays before kicking the FG.

by hawkeye (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 7:03pm

No Iowa in your top 25? interesting.

by Domer (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 7:04pm

Congrats on an impressive trouncing. UM was ready to play and very well-prepared. The only upside is that maybe this will keep Carr in Ann Arbor for a long time.

by Kal (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 7:15pm

#2: They could have, but it wasn't a lot of time that was wasted before the run - it was a lot of time wasted as a result of the run. Peterson didn't run out of bounds, he ran right back into the other side of the field, and then they had no time. It was a play that took at least 15 seconds + a bit to reset. That + the kickoff ate a lot of time.

I don't think the squib kick was bad; Oklahoma was out of timeouts, and thanks to the new rule the clock starts as soon as the ducks kick off. So the more the ball bounces the more seconds tick off. The kickoff play took something like 15 seconds by itself. That's not a bad strategy, but it was just horrible coverage otherwise. Ugh.

by andrew apold (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 7:41pm

Tennessee loses and moves up two spots?

by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:03pm

Tennessee loses and moves up two spots?

I don't see anything wrong with that. Losing by one point to a team as good as Florida is impressive.

For example, Virginia Tech is rated ahead of Tennessee, but at this moment which squad has done more to demonstrate that they're a good team?

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:21pm

#2: They could have, but it wasn’t a lot of time that was wasted before the run - it was a lot of time wasted as a result of the run. Peterson didn’t run out of bounds, he ran right back into the other side of the field, and then they had no time. It was a play that took at least 15 seconds + a bit to reset.

I think the idea behind the run was to position the ball for the FG, not to gain yards. Not that I agree with it, but I think that's what Stoops was thinking.

by NYCowboy (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:23pm

Miami out for the 1st time in a long time. What more (or is it less?) does Coker have to do to get fired?

by Slippery Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:36pm

#9: Lose to Duke.

by mARTY mornigwheg (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:36pm

wyh be anger at a 7-5 record? The Vi Kings would kill for taht. FIRE mIKE ITCE! How did he og over the nex tfour games?? ? If he lost and went 7-9 thats bad. If he one went 11-5 thats SuPer good!!! He make er playoffs? Or Get trounced!!! You now, I coacht a zMicigan Team once. Its fun until you due bad dna thne. FIREMA TT mILELNEN!!! I now I did.

by johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 8:39pm

Low light of the week. Horrible dislocated ankle injury in USC game. Announcer "you hate to see that". This after they have already slow-mo replayed it for you three straight times.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 9:06pm

Am I the only one who isn't terribly high on Brady Quinn? He can obviously make all the throws, it's just he seems so terribly inconsistent. It seems to me like he'll have whole stretches of game (and this goes back through last year) in which he doesn't throw a single good deep spiral or get the ball anywhere near his guys. The ability's obviously there as is the intelligence, and he does look better so far this year, but I do wonder how good he's made to look by the system and by the talent that surrounds him. It often seems he's getting more credit for shouldering the team than he should be.

And this is coming from a fan of both Notre Dame and Michigan (or is that cheating?) who would very much like to be a Brady Quinn fan.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 9:45pm

I like that not only Tennessee but Nebraska moved up two spots despite losses. I genuinely had no idea what to expect from Nebraska (the last thing I remember about them was putting in the 12th through 116th men on defense, not a whole lot to be learned from that game), but they clearly have to be the favorite in the Big 12 North, not just by default either.

by calig23 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 10:27pm


Every description I've seen of Quinn makes me think of Drew Bledsoe or Vinny Testaverde.

by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 12:02am

By the time it was over, Michigan had reclaimed its position among the nation’s elite teams .

Wow Russ, that's a pretty bold statement when you consider that the Irish haven't beaten anyone in the Weiss era. The "best" team the Weiss-led Domers have beaten is your very average 7-5 Wolverines in 2005. Last season Notre Dame beat one team which won a Bowl game: Navy. In the regular season, they played 3 teams that actually went to a Bowl: Michigan, Navy & BYU.

Most non-ND lovers knew, or had a pretty strong inclination, that ND's defensive secondary was a weak link. Props to Michigan for attacking it, but let's not get carried away...those DBs were falling on the ground when Manningham made one juke move.

I give Michigan all the credit in the world for going to South Bend as a 'dog and taking ND behind the woodshed, but they need another quality win or two before they should be considered "among the nation's elite."

Along similar lines, I would say the exact same thing about my beloved Gators. They deserve a lot of credit for their comeback win in Knoxville, but they need to beat Auburn or LSU before I would consider them to be back among the nation's elite.

by Jeff (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 12:39am

RE: #16

Your forgetting about the USC game in Bowl Teams that Weis played. And they played USC tougher than any team but Texas

by Chad (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 3:22am

Re: 17

And, in another prime example of Pac-10 officiating incompetence, should have been the winners of that contest. :)

by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 3:46am

Except, #18, those were a big-10 crew since it was being played in ND, not USC. But I'm sure it was Pac-10 officials somehow. They probably drugged the big-10 officials that were supposed to ref it and dragged them off.

by kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 3:54am

Re #16: Along similar lines, I would say the exact same thing about my beloved Gators. They deserve a lot of credit for their comeback win in Knoxville, but they need to beat Auburn or LSU before I would consider them to be back among the nation’s elite.

I actually disagree. I think this is the first time in a long time that I don't feel uncomfortable seeing our Gators among the nation's elite. It's not that we managed a comeback in Neyland. It's not the results of the game that justify the ranking, in my opinion... it was how we played during the game. The only real questions about this team, aside from some depth issues, were related to the offensive line and the running game. Tennessee has a great defensive front 7, and yet our offensive line was serviceable in pass protection, and while our running game was inconsistant, this was a PHENOMINAL Tennessee rushing defense that we pushed around. Deshaun Wynn was the first player to run for 100+ yards against Tennessee since... Caddilac Williams in 2004.

Win or lose, the improvements that the OL and running game made certainly have me sleeping a lot easier when it comes to the Orange and Blue.

by antigonos (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 10:21am

Rutgers at 23? I'd love to beleive it...but I don't see it yet. The running game and defense look like they are for real...but Teel has been brutal at QB. I think if they are 6-0 going into the game at Pitt (which would give them two more road wins) you could start talking top 25.

Still, just to even be able to consider RU a top 25 team is amazing.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 10:27am

I think Brady is asked to do too much. He throws it 30+ times every game and it's not the Hawai'i or Texas Tech type offense. I don't think he looks all that great, but I know I can't evaluate talent.

I'm still wondering what happened to Darius Walker. Guy came on strong as a freshman but I can't remember any great games he's had the past couple years. He reminds me a little of Edge at Indy. He's a patient runner who gets his yards 3-5 at a time.

by John (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:30am

Re 13: I agree with you. I also don't understand the constant references on this sight when they talk about bad teams "competing to draft Brady Quiinn" I think he has bust written all over him, and have had that opinion since he was severely outplayed by Drew Stanton last year (who isn't anything too special either, IMO).

by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:36am

Re #20: Your current feelings about our Gators is exactly how I felt last year after we beat a highly ranked Tennessee squad in September. Turns out Tennessee was WAY overrated and Florida wasn’t that good either. Even though I am encouraged by the way they played on Saturday, especially the toughness factor that missing in 2005, for me personally, the Gators have to beat either Auburn or LSU to convince me they are back.

by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:37am

Re #17: Yes, I forgot to mention that USC was a bowl team, but in the end, ND still lost to USC, an inconvenient truth to most ND faithful and national media types.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:41am

18, 19: I really don't know how you'd tell the difference between Pac-10 and Big 10 refs, except maybe by their accents. I can't ever remember watching a Big 10 game and thinking afterward, "You know, that was really a well-officiated game."

Basilicus - yes. You can hate them both. I don't think you're supposed to like them both.

9, 10: I don't think that's possible. Losing to NC State, maybe.

Re UT and NU: With relative rankings, you can't just leave #15 and #16 empty, and if you don't move up Tennessee or Nebraska, does TCU move up two more spots? Boston College three spots? I think it's easier to see what's happening when you have formulas that show an absolute number, so you can say "ah, Tennessee dropped from 84.5 to 81.3, but other teams dropped farther," or something like that.

I would agree that it's a little early to declare that Michigan has returned, in part because I considered the wins over Vanderbilt and CMU to be unimpressive, but on the other hand, who on their schedule can be considered good enough to provide a proper challenge? Ohio State and ... ... ... yeah, that's about it. Arguments for Penn State and Iowa welcomed.

by DC (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:54am

Where is IOWA AT? How can you not rate IOWA .. you bandwagon rider...freaking rate notre LAME? Horrible!!! They once again are overrated as usual.. why even rank them .. the big 10 is by far the best conferance in the land .. and iowa is the 3rd best team right now in the big 10 and you dont even rank them.. this site has no creditablity!

by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 12:12pm

27: As a Michigan man, I can say with confidence that the Big 10 is not even in the same ballpark as the SEC this year in quality. Other than OSU and Michigan, the conference has been decidedly unimpressive in non-conference play, and they have three or four absolutely putrid teams besides the cavalcade of mediocrity in the middle.

Iowa didn't look particularly good this week, and though I know they didn't have Tate for most of the Syracuse game, they should have lost that game, to one of the worst BCS conference teams around outside of the Big 10. No defense is so great to stop a team 7 times that close to the endzone without the help of total playcalling incompetence. That they are probably the third best team in the conference speaks to the drecks below them, not to Iowa's play thus far. They'll get to show what they're made of soon enough against OSU.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 12:47pm

they have three or four absolutely putrid teams besides the cavalcade of mediocrity in the middle

Indiana, oh Indiana,
Indiana we're all for you.

We will fight for,
The Cream and Crimson,
For the glory of old IU.

Never daunted,
We shall not falter,
Through the battle,
We're tried and true.

Indiana, oh Indiana,
Indiana we're all for you.

I U!!

by DMP (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 1:44pm

Oh, man, nothing like a big win to inflate a Michigan fan's ego beyond recognition. Now I have to hear the "Michigan Man" crap all over the place. You'd at least think you people would have already started calling it "Michigan Person" after spending all that time in Ann Arbor.

Hey, "Michigan Man" BB (#28), so how long were you in the UofM coaching staff?

Mario Manningham is spectacular. That move he made for the first TD was stupendous. What's the DPAR on 4 catches, 3TDs and a first down? Yikes. Someone also still needs to explain to me how little Micheal Hart manages to move and slip away from people after a tackle almost every carry.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 2:49pm

Whenever I start hearing crap about someone being a Michigan Man, I just pretend he's saying he's a Michelin Man, then smile to myself as I imagine all his children will look like the one in the link.

by Russell Levine :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 3:03pm

Oh, man, nothing like a big win to inflate a Michigan fan’s ego beyond recognition. Now I have to hear the “Michigan Man� crap all over the place. You’d at least think you people would have already started calling it “Michigan Person� after spending all that time in Ann Arbor.

This Michigan Man, er, Person, just did a spit take at reading the last line. Well played.

by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 3:11pm

Hey, I just mentioned was a Michigan man to avoid the inevitable "You toothless SEC homer Alabama backwoods hick" to combat my assertion that the SEC is stronger than the Big 10.

I probably had my Michigan Man card revoked when I got engaged to a State girl though.

by DMP (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 4:07pm

Russell: Well I hope you shall never taste a flavor such as that of the drink you just lost. (Hey, somebody has to represent ol' green and white around here...)

BB: If your "Michigan Man" card got revoked for that, not sure what my Sparty status is after marrying a
"Michigan Woman" and using her "M Go Blue!" blanket to sleep at night (just moved to a new place, regular blankets yet to be found). Swear to god that thing burns my skin like acid.

Trogdor: Slightly disturbing, yet something I can agree to.

by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 4:22pm

Anyone remember when Urban Meyer chose Florida over Notre Dame? I remember one columnists (Maisel? Mandel?) say it was because he'd get to coach Chris Leak for three years, rather than be stuck w Brady Quinn. And now Quinn is the consensus best QB prospect in America. I think in 5 years we'll be talking about Charlie Weiss as the next Jeff Tedford.

by dburba (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 4:56pm

Iowa not in the top 25, but Rutgers is? Why not just throw New Hampshire in there ... couldn't make the thing any more ridiculous.

by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 9:20pm

I have to take issue with #26. Has Iowa really done SO MUCH in their first three games that having them outside the top 25 is "ridiculous"?

They beat a decent ISU team, needed OT to beat a lousy Syracuse team...and they beat Montana. Nothing really jumps off the page for me there.

Mind you, I think Iowa has a decent shot at the Big 10 title, and I wouldn't be shocked if THEY shocked Ohio State. If any of that happens I'm certain it will be reflected in the ratings.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 11:39pm

I take issue to #36 and #27 because of this line --

Feel free to comment — my rankings may change based upon your suggestions.

Seems to me that the author is open to, and even asking for, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Insults are not constructive.

by james (not verified) :: Thu, 09/21/2006 - 7:01pm

brady aint gonna be any franchises savior. He hasn't had a good game against a good defense that came to play.

If you want to find the good pros find the guys who played well under pressure. Because the every single NFL game is full of pressure. Gotta find the guys that can take it.

Thats why all the Mac guys are good because they are always having to keep their teams in games and none of them play for some school that schedules cupcakes for 6 out of 12 games.

Thats why Eli's good. That's why Rivers is going to be a player. ETC ETC. Brady has yet to show us he can do it against a team ND isn't better than.

by John McQueen (not verified) :: Fri, 09/22/2006 - 2:17pm

Your an idiot for ranking Texas 10, with our only loss coming against the #1 team in the nation. Pull your head out of your rear and recognized that not only will Texas play for the BCS Championship, they will beat the Bugeyes to do it!!!