Oregon running back LaMichael James may have sealed the Heisman Trophy by rushing for 239 yards and three touchdowns on national television against the USC Trojans. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Oregon is at home at the Coliseum, Boise State drops in BCS poll, and this Saturday No. 3 TCU at No. 5 Utah plus No. 6 Alabama at No. 10 LSU.
By Michael Brown
Sentinel Sports Writer
An atmosphere of jubilation filled Oregon head coach Chip Kelly’s press conference, mostly attended by partisan Duck beat reporters after his team defeated USC Saturday night.
Kelly sported a Kool-Aid smile for much of the conference and even exchanged in some playful banter with reporters.
On Sunday, as the Bowl Championship rankings for the week were revealed, Kelly had another reason to smile. The Ducks leapfrogged Auburn for the top spot in the nation, making Oregon No. 1 in the BCS, Associated Press and Coaches polls.
Gaining the No. 1 distinction in the nation with so much football left to play is almost irrelevant at this point. Oregon and Auburn have tough games left and will likely trade places a few more times, provided they run the table.
Texas Christian also jumped ahead of Boise State in the BCS to No. 3, despite the Broncos winning last week against Louisiana Tech.
Boise State is probably scratching their collective heads after winning again and being rewarded with a drop in the BCS.
At this point the landscape seems clear. If Oregon and Auburn win-out, they’ll play for the national title. Teams like TCU, Utah and Boise State from non-qualifying BCS conferences will need some help.
Last Saturday, two more undefeated teams fell, a running back put on a record-setting performance and the Heisman race heated up as all of the four likely front-runners performed admirably.
It’s hard to not gush about Oregon’s 53-32 win at USC. The Ducks dominated the Trojans across the board and never panicked when they fell behind USC in the third quarter.
The Ducks responded in typical fashion much like earlier this season when they trailed Stanford, 21-0, and came back to blow out the Cardinal. Led by Tailback LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas, the Ducks responded to USC’s surge with 24 unanswered points and coasted to victory.
More telling was after the game. As USC’s players ran off the field heading for the locker room, Oregon’s team mostly walked and then, suddenly, started taking a victory lap around the Coliseum and slapping high-fives with their remaining fans and acting like they owned the place.
And for good reason. Oregon is the class of the Pacific 10 Conference this season and now No. 1 in the BCS.
The Ducks newfound swagger was summarized best by Casey Matthews when he said, “We’ve been down before, but we’re a complete team so our confidence never went away. We knew we had speed advantages and were better.”
Michigan State entered its game in Iowa City with an 8-0 record and a No. 5 ranking, but left embarrassed after getting drubbed by the Iowa Hawkeyes, 37-6.
The Spartans were outclassed from the outset as Iowa put up 17 points in the first quarter and 13 in the second, for a 30-0 halftime lead. Michigan State’s quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is usually a steady hand, turned in his worst performance of the season by throwing three interceptions, including one for a pick-6 in the first quarter.
The loss dashed any hopes for a shot at the national title for the Spartans, and helped Iowa jump back into Rose Bowl contention.
The standout individual performance last Saturday was turned in by Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. as he set a school-record.
Helu helped the ‘Huskers knock off an undefeated sixth-ranked Missouri team, 31-17, by finishing with 307 yards rushing and three touchdowns on only 28 carries.
Helu became the first player in college football this season to rush for 300 yards, and he passed Calvin Jones’ 1991 total of 294 yards. That’s not a bad distinction considering Nebraska has had tailbacks such as Ahman Green, Mike Rozier, Lawrence Phillips and Keith Jones.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones was also prolific in a 43-10 win against Colorado. Jones went 32 of 46 for 453 yards and four touchdowns.
Auburn’s Heisman Trophy contending quarterback Cam Newton is used to putting up highlights each week.
Except last Saturday, he provided another highlight: at wide receiver!
During the first quarter, Newton lined up at wide out and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass, giving the Tigers a 14-0 lead.
Newton guided the Tigers to a 51-31 win by finishing 18 of 24 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He had a pedestrian 45 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Oregon’s James had a workmanlike performance, carrying the ball 36 times for 239 yards and three touchdowns, to lead the nation’s best rushing attack. It was all the more impressive considering James’ backup, Kenjon Barner, was out with a concussion.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore had a ho-hum performance in a 49-20 win against Louisiana Tech. Moore was 20 of 29 for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, in a 52-10 win at Minnesota, went 18 of 22 for 222 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and had five carries for 55 yards with a touchdown.
Big games this week
For all intents and purposes, two teams will be eliminated from the national title race after this Saturday’s games are completed.
Third-ranked Texas Christian visits No. 5 Utah in a battle of the Mountain West Conference’s unbeaten teams. It’s simple, the winner will still have an outside shot at title contention while the loser will probably be relegated to a lower-tier bowl game due to its conference’s non-BCS status.
Alabama, ranked sixth, will face 10th-ranked LSU on the road. Both teams, which are 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC, can still play for the title if they remain unbeaten the rest of the way.
No. 15 Arizona’s game at No. 13 Stanford has huge Rose Bowl implications, and 18th ranked Arkansas at No. 19 South Carolina is another game to watch.