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Bradford SL (2)
Playoff baseball is in the air, as just moments ago the Twins knocked out the Tigers. Coming soon will be a blog post about the "fairness" or lack thereof when it comes to these one game playoffs and the home team. Be sure to check back for that and a complete playoff preview (which should be up tomorrow). First, however, it's Tuesday night and it's time to take a look at what might be the most relatively pedestrian week of the season.

I could write the play-by-play about wins by USC and/or Miami against ranked teams, but both have had such articles written, so let's take a closer look at what has turned into a disappointing season for Oklahoma and its star player.

Play-by-Play: Sooner 'Til Later

In 2008, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy, led his Sooners to a spot in the BCS Championship game (a game which they lost), and projected as a top-of-the-draft pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Bradford had certainly accomplished much in his college career, and there is little doubt that he could have made a successful jump to the NFL. But, he chose not to; Bradford, instead chose to return to Oklahoma.

Bradford, a redshirt junior, returned to school with the hope of again leading his team to a Big 12 Championship and the National Championship game. He had hoped that this season the Sooners would emerge victorious in that game and crown themselves National Champions.

Just less than a half of a game into the season, Bradford saw those hopes swept away like a strong wind in Oklahoma. He was tackled awkwardly to the ground and slid across the artificial turf of Cowboy Stadium. To the horror of the Sooners, Bradford remained on the ground, writhing in pain, and was afterward diagnosed with a Grade 3 A-C joint sprain in his shoulder.

To compound the problem, then-No. 3 Oklahoma lost that game 14-13 to then-No. 20 BYU and quickly plummeted in their quest for the National Championship.

Despite the early loss, OU and backup quarterback Landry Jones responded with a 64-0 win over Idaho State and a 45-0 win over Tulsa. Many people, including myself, believed that No. 8 Oklahoma had regained its swagger as it headed to Florida to take on No. 17 Miami this past weekend.

We were wrong.

Despite Bradford still on the sideline, OU came out strong, scoring a touchdown on its first drive of the game and taking a 10-0 lead on the first drive of the second quarter.

But, the Hurricanes would not be blown away, and responded to that field goal with a touchdown of their own to close to the deficit to 10-7, a score which would hold up through halftime.

Things turned abruptly for the Sooners in the second half. On the second play of the half, Jones was sacked and coughed up the ball on the OU 11. Miami QB Jacory Harris found Dedrick Epps for a score on the very next play to put Miami up 14-10. Then, a drive later, Harris hit Travis Benjamin for a 38-yard touchdown to put the Hurricanes up 21-10.

What had looked like a promising start had turned into a two-score deficit, and Bradford could only watch in his street clothes and hope his team could mount a comeback without him.

To Oklahoma's credit, it did fight back. Responding to the latest Miami score with a touchdown of its own to make it a 21-17 game with nearly 19 minutes left in the game.

The Sooners closed it to a one-point game with a field goal with 4:18 remaining, but the defense just couldn't get the ball back from Miami, who got four first downs on the final drive and successfully ran out the clock and drained OU's title hopes.

With two losses, Oklahoma is now standing on the outside looking into the National Championship picture, and needs to hope for losses from schools like USC, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and at least two or three SEC teams to have any shot at making it back to their second consecutive BCS Championship game.

As Oklahoma's hopes have been dashed, critics have begun to question Bradford's decision to return to school.

For his part, Bradford showed little regret in his decision at a press conference today. "Money's not everything," he told reporters. "This was who I wanted to play for, and my experience here has been unbelievable. I felt like coming back and adding to that experience would be a great thing for me."

He also went on to show optimism that Oklahoma could make it back into the BCS Championship game. Not an unjustified argument, considering that Oklahoma has yet to play a Big 12 game, and thus still controls its own destiny in the conference. Two years ago, LSU won the National Championship after having lost two games. Considering that both of OU's losses were by a single point and that voters should give leeway for Bradford's injury, Oklahoma would probably be the highest ranked two-loss team at season's end, if it can stop the bleeding.

To do that, however, it's clear that Bradford must take control of the offense sooner than later. The injury was supposed to take 2-4 weeks for recovery, and Bradford's already exceeded that time frame. Today, he seemed optimistic he would be healthy soon, but still could not commit to a certain point when he would start again for OU.

In defense of Bradford, I'll never criticize a player for returning to college. His National Championship hopes might be small at this point, but that doesn't mean he made the wrong choice. After explaining his hope that Oklahoma could win a fourth consecutive Big 12 title, Bradford told reporters: "It would be extremely selfish for me to say, 'The possibility of a national championship is slim now, so why come back?'"

As it stands now, Bradford should graduate with a college degree in the spring. In explaining his decision to go pro instead of stay in school this past spring, USC's Mark Sanchez harped on the importance to him that he had earned his degree, so he felt he had accomplished his goals at USC. Bradford will do the same at Oklahoma.

On the flip side of Sanchez's choice, he, as all players that elect to go pro early, left a lot of "what-ifs" behind. What if he had returned? Could he have won a Heisman Trophy? Could he have led his team to a National Championship?

In Bradford's case, it looks like the answer is "No" and "No," but at least he's got an answer. He can plod around in the NFL for 15-20 seasons. He could win 5 Super Bowls, he could win zero, but he'll never regret that he didn't leave earlier.

In short, people can analyze Bradford's decision all they want, but the kid will make it to the NFL sooner or later, and when he does, he'll make the big bucks, and he'll know that he didn't leave any "what-ifs" or unfinished business on the college campus.

Three Down Conversions

Tigers' Roar - My "big bro" texted me this weekend saying I should address how Auburn could go from unranked to No. 17 with a small 26-22 win at Tennessee. To be honest, I'm not sure how Auburn wasn't ranked before this week, and, in their defense, I had them debuting in the rankings last week at No. 23.

The Tigers handily beat both Mississippi State (who gave current-No. 4 LSU a run for its money) and the Big East's West Virginia. This past weekend, they led 23-6 shortly into the fourth quarter and had a 26-16 game in hand until Tennessee scored with no time left to make the score appear closer than it was. This team is back in contention and with games remaining against both LSU and current-No. 3 Alabama, they could be a darkhorse in the SEC.

I don't expect them to even win their SEC Division, but let me serve warning that this team is for real and will take down any unsuspecting foes.

Cardinal Rule - Without looking could you tell me who's in first in the Pac-10 right now? I'm sure you can tell me it's probably not USC, since you all know they lost to UW. After a 42-3 loss to Oregon and 30-3 loss to USC, it's obviously not another favorite, Cal. How about Oregon? Well, yeah, they're 2-0, but that's not the most wins in the conference. UW? Nope, they were silenced by this first-place team last week: the Stanford Cardinal!

Let's not get overly excited about the Cardinal's 3-0 Pac-10 record and 4-1 start. The loss came at unranked and not overly impressive Wake Forest; the only road win was against the inept Cougars of Washington State; and, November lines up the conferences elite in Oregon, USC, and Cal in successive weeks, followed by a visit from Notre Dame. Still, this team should be talked about as they're currently in first place and jumped out to a 24-6 lead against UCLA after three quarters this weekend before the Bruins narrowed it to 24-16 in the fourth. Stanford looks well on its way to making a bowl game for the first time since 2001.

The Trojan Wall - After losing eight starters and its coordinator last season, the USC defense was supposed to be a shell of what it was in 2008. In 2008, the Trojans led the nation with just 7.8 points against per game. In 2009, the Trojans defense is only allowing 8.6 PA/game, and that includes games against ranked opponents Cal and Ohio State, both of whom are averaging nearly 30 points/game despite being slowed down by the Trojans. Even in their defeat, the Trojans only gave up 16 points (one touchdown). This defense is again a force to be reckoned with and after a 30-3 beatdown of No. 24 Cal this weekend, the Trojan wall is finally getting its due again.

Pete Carroll never rests though, and this team will have to compete in its next big test. After a bye week this coming weekend, current No. 7 USC will have to go to South Bend to face Notre Dame and quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is currently the highest rated passer in the FBS. Clausen, a Southern California native, will have something to prove too, last year his anemic offense took until the fourth quarter until it got a first down against the Trojans.


Tarred Heels - There's a great story behind the North Carolina Tar Heels that they tell on the campus tour (I'd know, I took it!). I believe it was the Revolutionary War (although it could have been the Civil), and the soldiers from North Carolina were fighting the enemy (again, I believe it was the British, but it could have been the Americans...err, I mean the North). The soldiers were vastly out numbered, but held their ground "like their heels were tarred," in the words of a proud General. Thus, the nickname for North Carolina boys became the "tar heels."

Again, great story of nobility and honor, but UNC lost 16-3 to a winless Virgnia team this weekend that had lost to the FCS's William and Mary, as well as Conference USA's Southern Miss. After a loss like that in which the Tar Heels managed just 39 rushing yards and 174 total yards, you gotta wonder: at what point are you no longer proud to have your heels tarred to the ground!?

Defenseless Cougars - This whole small-conference team coming out of nowhere story is one that people are quick to get on top of (Boise State, Utah, etc.). People love to see the underdog do well. It's why Gonzaga basketball has so many fans that have never even been to the state of Washington. I'm sorry to be the party pooper, but the Zags have never even made the Final Four! Simply put, these teams aren't that great! Last week, I went into depth with a gremlin metaphor and said that upsets weren't a Cinderella story; the clock doesn't strike midnight. Please don't construe that to mean that the clock doesn't eventually strike midnight at some point during the season: after beating Oklahoma, BYU was later thumped by Florida State at home; UW returned to reality a week after beating USC with a twenty-point loss to Stanford; this weekend, it was No. 12 Houston's turn to watch their national contender chariot turn into a pumpkin. You'll notice that despite the AP putting them at #12, I couldn't bring myself to ever put them higher than #18, and, even at that, it pained me because I knew a day like this past Saturday would come.

The Cougars were thoroughly embarrassed in a 58-41 loss to UTEP, a team that (for the record) was just one-week removed from a 64-7 loss to No. 2 Texas. I will give credit where credit is due, Houston QB Case Keenum had a stat line for the ages: 51/76 for 536 yards and 5 TDs with no INTs. Keenum bumped himself immediately into Heisman discussions, but when you put up stats like that and lose by 17 points, there's something wrong with the defense!

Michi-GONE - That's two weeks in a row now I've altered the end of "Michigan" to make it into something else (I'm sure my friends from Ohio State are hoping I don't try to make this into a Three Down Conversion next week, ha ha!)

This team I believed in more so than Houston, but, especially after barely sneaking by Indiana at home last weekend, I certainly maintained my reservations on just how good they actually were. Those reservations were confirmed this week when the Wolverines were outplayed and ultimately lost in overtime to a Michigan State team that had lost three straight to unranked opponents.

The Wolverines needed to make a frantic comeback in the last five minutes of the game, scoring touchdowns with 4:03 and 0:02 left to turn a 20-6 deficit into a 20-20 tie. However, it wasn't enough to save the day and after quarterback Tate Forcier threw an interception in overtime, MSU's Larry Caper scampered 23 yards on 3rd and 8 to give MSU the 26-20 win. With the win, the Spartans took home the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the second consecutive season and turned the Wolverines back into Bunyan's Blue Ox for another year.

Extra Point

No. 4 LSU's 20-13 win over No. 18 Georgia brings back the argument surrounding excessive flags for "excessive" celebrations.

[1] I first noticed this issue on Thanksigiving Day 2007. After a big sack against Arizona State, USC's Sedrick Ellis flexed his arms over his head (see photo to left). As you can tell by the photo (which was taken against Stanford), this was a normal celebration for Ellis after a big tackle, a relatively harmless, un-taunting way of showing excitement.

However, in this particular instance, in the eleventh game of the season, the referees decided to flag such an action. The USC sideline, on which I was standing, was clearly shocked as the ref counted off 15 yards and a first down. In fact, fellow defensive lineman, Lawerence Jackson, noticeably and almost mockingly put his hands at his side and trotted back to the line later when he recorded a sack of his own. Ultimately, the flag meant nothing, the Trojans still routed the Sun Devils, but it was a sign of something wrong in college football.

Last season, it was proven just how costly an unnecessarily rough flag for "excessive" celebration can be. Trailing BYU by a touchdown, UW's Jake Locker ran the ball into the end zone with time about to expire to put UW behind by just one. As Huskies swarmed him, Locker tossed the ball away and jumped into a teammates arms. Out came the flags! The referee determined that in his moment of joy, Locker had thrown the ball too far over his head and that constituted "excessive" celebration. A look at the replay shows that Locker obviously was just getting rid of the ball by whatever means possible to celebrate with his team.

The essence of the rule was to stop showboating, and shouldn't have applied to this instance, but, nonetheless, 15 yards were counted off on the extra point attempt. Those 15 extra yards turned an easy kick to tie the game into more of a field goal. It's ironic that this in the "Extra Point;" the kicker shanked the kick and UW lost 28-27 to then-No. 15 BYU. Despite falling to just 0-2 after the game, the Huskies never recovered and finished at a winless 0-12. To this day, I maintain that if UW had won that game, they would have won at least two or three more games last season. (For a Trojan fan to be standing up for UW after the recent loss to it, you must realize that something is worth complaining about!)

This past Saturday, the refs again decided the outcome of a good battle. Trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter, LSU scored a touchdown with 2:53 left to go up 12-7. Georgia quickly responded with, what appeared to be, a game-winning drive of its own. Georgia quarterback Joe Cox threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 1:09 left to put the Bulldogs up 13-12.

Having mounted a comeback against the #4 team in the country, Georgia players were obviously happy and jumped up and down with each other in the end zone. A look at the replay shows no taunting or "excessive" celebration, more just chest bumping with teammates (a standard celebration, at this point, for the better half of the decade). The refs saw it differently. Somewhere, in these college kids excitement over the fact they'd just scored a touchdown with a minute left to take the lead in an important, some unhappy ref decided that A.J. Green was a little to happy. Flag!

This time (unlike UW), the 15 yards were marched off on the kickoff, meaning that Georgia would be forced to kick from its own 15 yard line! Kicker Blair Walsh got a good piece of the ball, kicking it 68 yards, but with a change in field position, that means that ball came down at the 17, instead of the 2. This change in field position was obvious to the kick returner, Trindon Holliday, who returned the ball 40 yards; it also affected the kickoff team, who in a frazzled state, illegally only lined up three players to the right on the ball (you must have at least four), this invoked a 5-yard penalty.

When the LSU offense came onto the field, needing just a field goal to win, it had the ball on the Georgia 38 as a direct and indirect result of the "excessive" celebration penalty. This meant that instead of needing roughly 30-40 yards (if it had started the drive between its 30 or 40), it only needed about 10 yards to be in a good field goal range.

The frazzled mindset the Georgia team carried over to the defense that essentially couldn't give up any yards. On the second play, LSU running back Charles Scott busted out a 33 yard touchdown run. After scoring the touchdown Scott dropped the ball and pointed with both hands up at the sky, a universal thanking of God seen by many players in many different sports. Nonetheless, a flag was thrown in Scott's direction. Want to venture a guess what it was for? I'm sure be now, you're not even .

After LSU was penalized the 15 yards, Georgia couldn't pull the same magic on the return that LSU had and ended up losing 20-13. It's not impossible that LSU would have marched into field goal range and won this game, anyway. But, I sure would have liked to see the offense, and not the referees, do that.

Enough's enough! It's time to blow the whistle on the unnecessary flags for "excessive" celebration!

Last Week's Final Score

Week Record: 1-2 Season Record: 8-4

Prediction: USC 27, Cal 20 Result: USC 30, Cal 3

Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Miami 14 Result: Miami 21, Oklahoma 20

Prediction: Georgia 20, LSU 17 Result: LSU 20, Georgia 13

This Week's Gameplan

No. 1 Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 4 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC), Sat 8 P.M. ET, CBS

This game is so big that CBS cancelled its Saturday night programming to cover to it!

Make no mistake about, National Championship contention will be on the line in this game. But, also make no mistake about it, with these teams in separate SEC Divisions, they could well meet again in the SEC Championship, which means that while this game is important, the loser could still rectify themselves in December, and, thus, won't be out of the running for a Championship quite yet.

That said, let's stop and assess this week's biggest story: Will Tim Tebow be cleared to play after he took a brutal concussion against Kentucky a week ago?

I've been saying since the preseason that LSU could definitely win this game, and I especially think that if Tebow can't go, LSU could turn into the favorite, as they are playing at home.

If Oklahoma struggles to win without Sam Bradford, despite his backup being a similar pro-style player, and if USC couldn't win without true freshman Matt Barkley, despite his backup having run with the first team offense all spring, I just don't see Florida being able to win without the multi-dimensional Tebow leading the charge.

All things considered, I think that Tebow and Meyer are such competitors that they'll find a way to get him cleared and get him in. However, I don't think that's the right choice.

Florida has gotten so much hype this season, that it's probably the one team in the country I'll guarantee could make the National Championship even if it suffered a loss. Every single team in the SEC East (except the Gators themselves) has already suffered a conference loss. This means that with games against all of those teams, Florida could lose Saturday and still control its own destiny in the SEC East, which in turn means it controls its destiny for the SEC Championship and, thus, (many would argue) the National Championship.

Florida's goal is to win a National Championship, not beat LSU in early October. The smart choice here would be to ensure that Tebow is healthy and don't risk losing him for the year. Concussions are terrible injuries and if he isn't fully recovered and suffers another such injury, it could easily mean this season, possibly his career.

That sounds drastic, but understand that the worst case scenario isn't losing this game, it's losing Tebow for longer.

All that preaching and I think Tebow will start. However, I've said all along that LSU will win this game, and I'm sticking to that assessment, especially because I think Tebow will need to protect himself and won't be quite the same player this week.

LSU 24, Florida 20

No. 21 Nebraska (3-1, 0-0 Big 12) at No. 24 Missouri (4-0, 0-0 Big 12), Thurs 9 P.M. ET, ESPN

I don't really buy into either of these teams...yet. Nebraska has suffered a loss, but it was a drag 'em out, 16-15 battle at then-No. 13 Virginia Tech. After VA Tech plastered Miami, and Miami beat Oklahoma, I realize that maybe losing by a point on the road to the Hokies was actually a very strong performance.

Nebraska could be one of the best teams currently flying under everybody's radar. Not that I blame anyone, though, this isn't the first time that the Huskers have raised hopes in recent years, but they haven't really been a top contender since 2001.

Missouri, on the other hand, just like their western neighbors, Kansas, seems to play a lot of easy games early on and carry an undefeated record for a while. However, once these teams get into the meat of the Big 12 schedule talks of National Championships seem to fade sooner or later after a crushing loss.

Missouri's had no tests so far, but they'll certainly be put to the challenge in the next couple weeks. After this game, they'll be on the road against No. 15 Oklahoma State before hosting No. 2 Texas. This week's game is the most winnable for the Tigers in the next three weeks, but I'd be surprised if they won any of the three.

Nebraska 34, Missouri 24

No. 3 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 20 Mississippi (3-1, 1-1 SEC), Sat 3:30 P.M. ET, CBS

As much as I dislike talking about the SEC all the time, this week's report has certainly turned into a discussion about that conference, and rightfully so.

It seems like the SEC, more so than any other conference, has big games early in the season. I think this is in part due to the media's hype around an abundance of SEC teams at the start of the year, whereas the media is a little less excited to jump on the bandwagons of say a Pac-10 or Big East team until that team truly starts cracking skulls in the conference.

Mississippi, as I've said all along, is another case of a media darling in the SEC. Ole Miss was supposed to be all that this season, until they were shutdown 16-10 by an unranked South Carolina team a week ago.

This game is the crux of the season for Ole Miss. A win would instantly vault them back into the national discussion. A loss, especially a lopsided one at home, would drop them from the rankings and be a big blow to the team's confidence. It would ultimately doom them to a season of puttering around the "Also Receiving Votes" section of the poll, with an occasional cameo in which the Rebels had a number in the twenties next to them.

Alabama, to its credit, has again managed to live up to the hype, despite not having nearly as many household names as SEC foes like Florida or LSU (or even Ole Miss, for that matter). Hate Nick Saban or just dislike him greatly, you gotta give the guy some credit for knowing how to build a successful program.

Alabama's been playing great football, and this should again be an opportunity for them to prove they belong, and Ole Miss to prove that they don't.

Alabama 34, Ole Miss 20

My Top 25

A shake-up at the top could be a pre-cursor for this weekend, or it could just anger the Gators!

1. Texas (Last week: 2) 2. Florida (1) 3. Alabama (3) 4. USC (6) 5. LSU (5) 6. Ohio State (7) 7. Virginia Tech (8) 8. TCU (9) 9. Cincinnati (11) 10. Boise State (10) 11. Penn State (12) 12. Miami (15) 13. Oregon (17) 14. Oklahoma (4) 15. Oklahoma State (13) 16. Auburn (23) 17. Iowa (14) 18. Nebraska (19) 19. BYU (22) 20. Ole Miss (21) 21. Georgia Tech (NR) 22. Kansas (NR) 23. South Carolina (NR) 24. Stanford (NR) 25. Notre Dame (NR)

OUT - Georgia (16), Houston (18), Cal (20), Michigan (24), Missouri (25)

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