Top Teams Play Game Of "Survivor"
by Mike Mitchell
It was reality TV at its finest. Saturday's college football games looked like an episode of "Survivor" as Georgia, Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio State and Nebraska were among the teams who took nail-biting victories. LSU and Florida were not so lucky.
Auburn won the battle of the Tigers over LSU, 10-9, on a touchdown pass and PAT with a minute left in the game. LSU missed an extra point try in the first quarter that became the difference-maker. Auburn missed its first attempt at the PAT to win the game but a penalty on LSU gave Auburn another shot. Ironically, it was Oregon State's failure to convert three extra points that allowed LSU to beat the Beavers back on September 4. The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak by the defending BCS national champions.
Tennessee's James Wilhoit kicked a 50-yard field goal with 6 seconds left to give Tennessee the come-from-behind win over Florida and break a four-game streak of away-team victories in the series. Wilhoit missed the game-tying PAT after the Vols pulled within 28-27 with three minutes left. But the Tennessee defense, with no timeouts left, was able to stop the Gators and caught a break when Florida was called for an unsportsmanlike retaliation foul after the Gators failed to convert a third-down play. The infraction could have easily been called on Tennessee as the official was staring right at the two players when the Volunteer initiated the action. Instead, the penalty helped Tennessee start their final drive at their own 39-yard line with 43 seconds left and Erik Ainge drove them into field goal range to set-up Wilhoit's redeeming kick.
Georgia's 13-3 win over Marshall in Athens comes one week after the Thundering Herd was beaten by Ohio State on a field goal on the game's final play in Columbus. The weekly picks, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, picked Georgia by 11 while the oddsmakers had established an 18-point line.
Michigan avoided being upset in the "Big House" by San Diego State. The Wolverines prevailed 24-21 over the Aztecs. Even the computer thought this would be a three-touchdown Michigan win.
West Virginia needed a touchdown pass in the first overtime to prevail 19-16 and snap their four-game losing streak to Maryland. The computer had forecasted the visiting Terrapins to win by three. The Mountaineers missed two attempts at a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of regulation. The first attempt was wide right but the Terps were offsides. The second attempt was blocked. Prior to that, Maryland had missed a 49-yard field goal with 1:15 left in regulation.
Ohio State capitalized on five Mike Nugent field goals and a host of penalties and turnovers by N. C. State to subdue the Wolfpack 22-14. The Buckeyes were lethargic on offense but were still able to get out of Raleigh with an 8-point win.
At Pittsburgh, Nebraska grabbed an early 24-7 lead but eventually had to dodge a last-second Hail Mary pass to escape "Steel Town" with a 24-17 victory. The computer had projected a Pittsburgh upset.
Wisconsin scored all nine of its points in the fourth quarter to overcome Arizona, 9-7. The teams endured an 88-minute rain delay in the second quarter.
The "survivor" theme continued in other college towns.
Memphis scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of its game with Arkansas State to rescue a 47-35 win from apparent defeat. The Tigers trailed throughout the game and were still behind 35-26 as the clock approached the two-minute mark.
Home-standing Ole Miss needed a 10-point comeback in the fourth quarter to force overtime with Vanderbilt. The Rebels finally shook off the pesky Commodores with a field goal in the first overtime for a 26-23 win.
Iowa State downed Northern Illinois 48-41 by outscoring the Huskies 22-7 in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma seemed to be one of the few teams that delivered a clear knockout punch to its opponent as the Sooners dumped Oregon 31-7.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech won its first ACC game with ease as the Hokies romped past Duke 41-17. The Blue Devils tallied the game's first and last touchdowns but, in between those scores, the Hokies controlled virtually every aspect of the game.
Troy, which had begun the season with wins over Marshall and Missouri, lost its Sun Belt Conference debut at New Mexico State. The victory was the first of the season for the Aggies as they eked out the 22-18 win on a touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining.
Connecticut played its first-ever Big East game on Friday night and was methodically beaten by Boston College. The 27-7 win pushed the Eagles' record to 3-0 and their UConn series advantage to 10-0-2.
Notre Dame improved its record to 2-1 by capitalizing on a half-dozen Michigan State miscues for a 31-24 win in East Lansing.
USC wore down, and eventually rolled to a 42-10 win over Brigham Young. Norm Chow, the longtime offensive coordinator under LaVell Edwards at BYU, now heads the offense under Pete Carroll with the Trojans.
Arizona State sent a message that it may be USC's closest competitor in the race for the PAC-10 title when the Sun Devils piled on Iowa, 44-7.
Boise State remained unbeaten with a 47-31 win at UTEP. The Miners fell to 1-2 with the other loss coming against Arizona State which is coached by Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins' predecessor at BSU.
Utah stayed perfect with a 48-6 spanking of rival Utah State.
The Thursday night game in Hattiesburg between Southern Miss and California was postponed due to Hurricane Ivan. The Louisville-Tulane game scheduled for New Orleans on Saturday was also postponed. Both games are expected to be made up on the weekend of December 4.
No Blemishes: The weekend action reduced the number of unbeaten teams from 45 to only 27. There are no undefeated teams in the MAC or Sun Belt conferences.
Conversely, there are 20 winless teams. Every team in the Big 10, Big 12, and Big East has won at least one game. So have Notre Dame and Navy, this year's only major independents.
Still Soaring: Florida Atlantic, a 1-AA team transitioning into Division 1-A and joining the Sun Belt next season, handed Middle Tennessee a 27-20 loss on its home field for the Owls third straight win over a 1-A opponent to start the season. Previous wins came at Hawaii and North Texas.
1-AA Maine also got in on the act as the Black Bears upended Sylvester Croom and Mississippi State in Starkville, 9-7.
Those victories leave the 1-A schools with a 34-5 record against their 1-AA brethren with FAU forcing three of the five losses.
Streaking: Boise State has won 14 straight games over-all, 20 straight at home, and 19 straight over WAC foes after its 47-31 win at UTEP.
USC has the nation's second-longest winning streak at 12 after winning 42-10 at BYU.
North Texas has won 18 straight over Sun Belt conference foes.
Army has lost 17 straight after a 35-21 loss at Houston.
SMU lost its 15th straight when Oklahoma State clobbered the Mustangs 59-7.