Who said winning a national championship was easy? When Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and USC started the season I’m sure they were well aware of the danger of the challenges that lay ahead. Florida, Texas and Oklahoma all knew they’d have to get by a conference championship game, and USC knew it had to play every team in the Pac 10. But honestly you can’t help but wonder, how seriously they took these dangers. If Florida played like they were capable of, week in and week out, there would be no doubt they deserved to be number one. If USC hadn’t overlooked Washington and played every game like they did against Cal, they’d control their own fate going into the final stretch. If Texas played this season with the fire and intensity they had from a year ago, no one would doubt their legitimacy. High rankings come with high risks, but right now it seems complacency has affected everyone at the top.
In this week’s roster of college football games, two more title contenders are in for some serious tests.
#3 Texas at #14 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has lost their last 11 games to Texas going back to 1997. That can’t feel good. OK State despises Texas and they have all the motivation in the world coming into this game. Last year’s close 28-24 defeat saw the Cowboys first chance at a southern division title disappear. This year Texas and State come in as the only Big XII undefeated teams in conference play. With another shot at a Big XII title birth, everything is on the line for the Cowboys. They have the team to do it but without star WR Dez Bryant, their offense loses considerable production. Here’s the most telling stat. Through the first and only three games he played this season, since his suspension, he has 323 yards and 4 touchdowns, These statistics lead the team in their respective categories. Second in yards is sophomore Hubert Anyiam with 306 yards, and second in TD’s is sophomore Dameron Fooks with 3. Through 7 games no one has produced what he had in the first three. He was a special player and with the announcement of his season-long suspension, the Cowboys offense will surely miss him.
This couldn’t have come at a worse time either. Texas’s defense is playing better than they ever have under Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Under Muschamp they now lead the nation in rushing defense, and are second, only to Florida, in total defense. Their only weakness, defensively, may be in their secondary as they only rank 33rd but a Bryantless Oklahoma State offense may not be able to exploit this enough to matter. OK State ranks a paltry 56th in total defense and with Texas leading the nation in scoring as well, their chances aren’t looking good. On paper we know who the better team is but enough can’t be said about conference games and rivalries. Alabama dominated Tennesse in every statistical category but the Third Saturday in October was as tough as ever for the Tide. Oklahoma State will come to play but I just don’t think Texas will take them for granted. They both know the stakes, and Texas knows it’s national title dreams are finished with a loss at any point this season. I would love to call the upset but I think Texas goes into Boone-Pickens Stadium with a chip on their shoulder and they extend that winning streak to 12 over the Cowboys. Texas 24 Oklahoma State 18
#5 USC at #10 Oregon
USC domination of the west coast only seems to be south of Oregon. Their last 4 ventures north of California have all come in defeats at the hands of Oregon State, Oregon, and Washington respectively. This time with mid-season form on their side USC looks right the ship. They know it won’t be easy going into Autzen Stadium. The Big Ten has 100,000 seaters and so does the SEC but college football experts will tell you, Autzen’s 55,000-seat stadium is just as rowdy the biggest of them.
USC knows with a loss in Autzen their national and conference title hopes will virtually disappear. Oregon controls it’s fate in the Pac 10 and with a win this weekend their bid for a national title will benefit greatly. If they can win, their only loss will be to a, likely undefeated, Boise State. If there aren’t two Big Six undefeated teams, Oregon would likely be the BCS’s first choice. Chip Kelly and Pete Carroll have proven their leadership abilities this season; dealing with adversity and their match-up this weekend will be the toughest test for both teams up to this point.
Oregon’s rushing attack has been dominant at times, even without suspended LeGarrette Blount. They rank 14th nationally with 211 ypg on the ground, and they’ll need newly risen stars, QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LaMichael James to step up. USC’s defense has struggled the last two weeks against good offenses with Notre Dame gaining 367 yards and Oregon State gaining an appalling 482 yards. This compared to the 238.6 yards they had been holding opponents to in their first five games. It hasn’t been the fault of the USC’s front seven though, they rank fifth nationally in rush defense and with Oregon’s heavy reliance on the run, Oregon’s fate may lie with Jeremiah Masoli’s arm.
Oregon’s mean green defense aren’t pushovers either though. They rank 19th nationally in total defense and have been stout against aerial attacks. This doesn’t bode well for mistake-prone freshman Matt Barkley. As good as he’s been as a freshman and at leading his team to a 6-1 start, he still only has seven TD’s compared to five interceptions. He’s thrown four of his five picks in the last three games against not-so-great defenses. Oregon will be the best he’s seen in his career and the game may depend on how he responds. If Oregon can rattle him into making mistakes they can concentrate on USC’s ground game. If they can take away the rush and make Barkley try and beat them they’ll have a much easier time getting the win.
Oregon hasn’t won a conference championship since 2001 and their players, and fans, are ready for another. I think Oregon pulls out the minor upset at home and continues it’s run to a Pac 10 title. Their defense will force turnovers and their ground game will dictate the tempo in a relatively low scoring wild one up in Autzen. Oregon 21 USC 14