Northwestern is back at it this week with a big game against Michigan with bowl positioning and Big Ten title hopes still squarely on the line.
The focus is back to the field after the bye week and hopefully some recuperation from some of the injuries that have befallen the team the last few weeks. Bye weeks have magical powers to heal those wounds and nagging injuries.
This weekend was a crazy one without Northwestern.
In a matter of minutes, Notre Dame erased a deficit and forced overtime, nearly lost in overtime before scoring a touchdown. On ABC at the same time, Nebraska was making a come-from-behind win at Michigan State, sending many Northwestern fists onto their tables in disgust as a big chance to climb back in the Big Ten race was denied. Then in the nightcap, Alabama came back with a touchdown with 45 seconds left to win at Death Valley and keep the team’s national championship dreams alive. And Oregon’s Kenjon Barner decided to play a video game against USC.
A lot of the top teams in the nation faced scares and survived to make a potential BCS mess. Northwestern is at No. 24 in the standings for its highest BCS rank since 2008.
The Wildcats are happy to be in the conversation and to have that number next to their name, despite opening as a 13-point underdog to the Wolverines (the line is now down to 11).
The BCS seems headed toward the dreaded four undefeated team Armageddon. Good thing it is being replaced in two years. There might still be some BCS trickery coming up and a lot more chaos to come. Here is my BlogPoll ballot for the week. As always, let me know what you think and suggested changes. I may include them in future drafts.
Last Week: defeated No. 13 LSU 21-17. This Week: vs. No. 14 Texas A&M (2:30 p.m. CT/CBS)
The Buzz: Every championships team it seems has a game where it needs to rally on the road and secure a win. The defining win for the 2002 National Championship Ohio State team was a come-from-behind win at Purdue that just made you think, this team just has the breaks when they need it. The Crimson Tide are very much that team. At least they were Saturday night at Tiger Stadium. Their championship dream did not go to die in the dark night of Death Valley. Instead quarterback A.J. McCarron added to his legend with that 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left.
Last Week: defeated No. 23 USC 62-51. This Week: at California (9:30 p.m. CT/ESPN)
The Buzz: On Saturday night Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota had nothing better to do than play a video game. Except this was real. The score was something that gets posted in a video game where juke moves are exaggerated and truck sticks exist to blow up worthless defenders. Barner’s stat line was unreal as he ran for 321 yards on 38 carries and scored five touchdowns. Mariota completed 20 of 23 passes, scoring four passing touchdowns and throwing for 304 yards. I guess it was in the game.
3. Notre Dame
Last Week: defeated Pittsburgh 29-26. This Week: at Boston College (7 p.m. CT/ABC)
The Buzz: Saturday’s triple overtime win over Pittsburgh is what you call a great escape. Notre Dame trailed 20-16 before rallying to score 14 points in the fourth quarter. This game had a very common refrain for Northwestern fans. The Irish ran more than 100 plays while the Panthers were somewhere in the 60s. Notre Dame’s strong defense held Pittsburgh to 1 for 14 on third downs and Everett Golston came up big at the end. That spells the recipe for a comeback.
4. Kansas State
Last Week: defeated Oklahoma State 44-30. This Week: at TCU (6 p.m. CT/FOX)
The Buzz: The Wildcats defeated the Cowboys but may have suffered a major loss. Collin Klein left the game in the third quarter with an apparent arm injury. But nobody is quite sure if it is just an injury to his throwing arm or if a concussion could be involved. That creates a lot of intrigue as the Heisman frontrunner and his Wildcats fight for a national championship. Traveling to Fort Worth will not be easy particularly after the Horned Frogs defeated the Mountaineers on the road last weekend in overtime. The pressure could be on Daniel Sams to keep K-State’s dream alive.
5. Ohio State
Last Week: defeated Illinois 52-22. This Week: Bye Week
The Buzz: I just love typing this, saying it loud or thinking it to myself: Illinois is the worst team in the Big Ten. And it may not be close. Another week, another lifeless performance from the Illini. Braxton Miller had 73 rushing yards and 226 passing yards to go with his three total touchdowns (two passing). Carlos Hyde had 18 carries for 137 yards and three touchdowns as Ohio State used a 24-point second quarter and never looked back. This kind of game makes you think Kain Colter and Venric Mark will have a field day at home against the Illini.
Last Week: defeated Michigan State 28-24. This Week: vs. Penn State (2:30 p.m. CT/ABC)
The Buzz: I am just shaking my head still. Not only did Nebraska cut out our hearts, they went ahead and waved it in front of us this Saturday in East Lansing. The Cornhuskers control their destiny in the Big Ten thanks to wins over Northwestern and Michigan. NU needed Michigan State’s help and the team nearly got it. Then Taylor Martinez led a touchdown drive late and found Jamal Turner for a five-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left. I guess that is why he is T-Magic. Still shaking my head.
Last Week: defeated Minnesota 35-13. This Week: vs. No. Super Amazing Northwestern (11 a.m. CT/ESPN)
The Buzz: The Wolverines had some quarterback issues as Denard Robinson was a late scratch — or was never going to play at all and dressed as misdirection for the Golden Gophers — but found the right formula attacking with Devon Gardner at quarterback. The Golden Gophers run defense is not quite the best and so the Gardner/Fitzgerald Toussaint backfield certainly could find its way to set up easier passes for the converted wide receiver. Michigan had only 155 rushing yards in the game as Gardner did his best Denard Robinson arm punt impersonations for two touchdowns.
Why No Northwestern?: I said I would not rank Northwestern until they beat a solid team. Michigan would be that solid team. I was torn between Northwestern, USC and Mississippi State for the last spots in the top-25. The Wildcats are definitely team No. 26 or 27 in my mind. But again, I want to see them do it on the road against Michigan before officially bestowing the title upon them again. They have disappointed too much with that number next to their game recently.