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Week 5: Irish rely on pluck, not luck

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This is not a great Notre Dame football team. But it is becoming — actually it has already become — a Fighting Irish team for the ages. In the ridiculously well-chronicled lore that is football under the Golden Dome, bum-toed Jimmy Clausen and his teammates are establishing their own legend: The keep-fightingest, never-say-dyingest, heart-stoppingest team in the 120-year history of Notre Dame football. When they did it again Saturday by overcoming Washington, 37-30, the Irish won their third consecutive game by making a key play in the final minute or later. This time, they came from behind three times and went into overtime to cap a remarkable game against the resurgent Huskies. Although they gave up 30 points and nearly 500 yards of offense, the key to the game was the ND defense. As in THREE goal-line stands. Sure, Clausen's 422 yards passing and Golden Tate's 275 all-purpose yards helped. But you have to understand that in the last 16 minutes of the game, Washington had a first-and-goal three times. On those opportunities, the Huskies' offense snapped the ball 10 times, and gained 11 yards ... and never got into the end zone. On seven snaps from the 1- or 2-yard line, Notre Dame stood fast: Six times stoning UW for no gain or a loss, and forcing an incomplete pass. One goal-line stand was impressive. Two was hard to believe. Three was, well, miraculous. It was the fourth Notre Dame game in a row that went to the very end: Michigan beat them with a last-minute victory back on Sept. 12, but then the Irish bounced back with similarly dramatic, but happier (for them) outcomes against Michigan State, Purdue, and now Washington. Keep this up, and Ted Mandell is going to have to come out with a Notre Dame supplement of his popular book, Heartstoppers and Hail Marys — College Football's Greatest Finishes. That might not be too much to ask, considering that he teaches in the university's film department. This is a stretch of drama that is truly unprecedented in Notre Dame history. Granted, ND has yet to beat a team with a winning record, but the record is still 4-1, and now they have two weeks to prepare for a good-but-not-great USC team. Although their schedule originally appeared to be made of Charmin, their final seven games are against teams with a combined 23-11 record, including five currently boasting a 4-1 mark. For this team to continue to come through, it's going to have to get better on defense, and the goal-line stands are certainly are something to build on. At any rate, it has become clear that a 9-3 record (a doable 5-2 the rest of the way) would warrant the 14th-or-better national ranking to qualify for a BCS bowl invitation.

Silver lining for Sooners

As bad as it looks for Oklahoma now, don't sob for the Sooners just yet. Big Game Bob's team still could have its best season in almost a decade. Oklahoma is merely 2-2, but look at it this way: They are 0-0 in the Big 12 and when they get the best quarterback in the country back next week, they are entirely capable of a 10-game roll that would include a victory over Texas. That would turn 2009 into their best, most exciting season since their 2000 national championship campaign. They're used to starting off something like 10-1 before having their season ruined with big games. But this year, they can be the comeback kids. Rather than win early and lose late, they have a chance to employ a new approach to a 12-2 season: They can become the gutsy, can-do type of team that everyone loves. You'll see. For a change, nobody will call these guys chokers when they win the Big 12 and go to the Fiesta Bowl.

These Bears lay eggs

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Two weeks ago, Cal looked like the class of the Pacific-10 Conference. And then they went back-to-back weeks without getting into the end zone. Oregon and USC outscored them, 72-6, and suddenly the Bears are looking just like the Cal team of 2007. That was a group that started off 5-0 and got up to No. 2 in the country, but once the bubble burst, they never got it back. They went on to lose six of their last seven regular-season games. They're going to have to come up with some way to throw the ball down the field, because the Ducks and Trojans just walked up to the line to stop Jahvid Best and the running game, and dared Kevin Riley to beat them with the pass ... which he couldn't.

Great Scott, just in time

Charles Scott finally showed up for LSU, and that's what gives the Tigers hope heading into the Florida game. Well, that and Tim Tebow's banged-up noggin', but that's another story. Scott had entered the season as one of the most productive backs in the country (30 career touchdowns, 5.5-yard average), but he'd managed only 3.9 yards a carry with no touchdowns heading into Saturday's game at Georgia. And through the first 57 minutes of the game, he had yet to make a difference (16 carries, 55 yards). But once the end zone was within reach, he harkened back to the powerful runner that had earned him the national reputation. He bulled in from two yards out for the Tigers' first touchdown with 2:53 remaining, and then after Georgia scored he put his style and talent on display in one of the most electrifying runs in college football this season when he refused to go down in blasting 33 yards for the winning touchdown. If he runs that way next week, the Tigers could win their 33rd straight home night game. If he doesn't, they won't.

Hottest team in the country?

Rarely has a quarterback been more impressive in turning his season around, and that of his team, than Jeremiah Masoli at Oregon. After a slow start, he's completed 35 of 43 passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions in his last six quarters of work (he sat out the second half of the blowout win over Washington State, with an ice pack on his knee). These are the same Ducks who started by getting waxed by Boise State, 19-8, but have since averaged 42 points a game in rattling off four victories.

Blount instrument

Now, Oregon might ask the Pac-10 for reinstatement of disgraced running back LeGarrette Blount (remember, he had been suspended for the season for his postgame punch), is less about getting him back to help the team than it is about giving the guy at least some hope for his future. An indefinite suspension was probably the right call originally, but university officials screwed it up by reacting to the public outcry and announcing it as a full-season suspension. A more appropriate response would have been to do just what they're proposing now — setting a series of off-field goals for Blount to reach (anger management, etc.) before even considering reinstating him. While they now look stupid for being flipfloppers, they would not be doing the right thing by ignoring the possibility of him learning from the horrid scene, improving himself, and having something to work for. For what it's worth, even the possibility of Blount's return would not come until November; after the Halloween Night showdown with USC at Autzen Stadium.

Divisional power

The pendulum has swung back to the West in the SEC. After several years of the East being the more powerful division, the West is certainly the more intriguing of the two this season, with more high-powered, exciting teams. So far, the West is 6-2 in interdivisional games, and just a glance at the teams shows how much better it is than the East this year. The West has Alabama and LSU, resurgent Auburn, Ole Miss with Jevan Snead, and even Arkansas with Ryan Mallett. What does the East have other than Florida? Here's a quick ranking of the divisions — and some supposed divisions — throughout the country, with quality teams in parentheses: 1. SEC West (Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas) 2. Big 12 South (Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) 3. Big 12 North (Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri) 4. ACC Coastal (Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech) 5. SEC East (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina) 6. Pac-10 South (USC, Stanford, Arizona, UCLA) 7. Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan) 8. Pac-10 North (Oregon, Oregon State) 9. Big Ten West (Iowa, Wisconsin) 10. ACC Atlantic (Boston College, Wake Forest)

Jekyll-and-Hyde Awards

This week's Jekyll-and-Hyde Awards go to ... Dr. Jekyll: Miami — The Hurricanes bounced back from their no-show against Virginia Tech by outlasting Oklahoma, 21-20, in what was probably the most substantial win in Randy Shannon's three seasons. Most impressive was the way they handled the adversity of Jacory Harris being intercepted on their first two possessions, only to come back and make the key plays. Harris then completed 19 of 26 throws for 202 yards and three TDs (with no more turnovers). Mr. Hyde: Houston — Talk about a team not able to handle success. After bumping off Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Cougars rose all the way up to No. 12 in the rankings, but then gave up an unconscionable 58 points in losing to a 1-3 UTEP team. The 58-41 loss basically eliminates Houston from any hope for a BCS bowl. But a team that gives up 58 points to UTEP probably was kidding itself, anyway.

A glance ahead

Thursday, Oct. 8
  • Nebraska at Missouri: Big 12 North favorites get together earlier than later. Saturday, Oct. 10
  • Florida at LSU: Tebow will give a concussion to a doctor who tries to bench him.
  • Alabama at Mississippi: Can Jevan Snead help Ole Miss shake up SEC West power structure?
  • Boston College at Virginia Tech: Past two division champs square off again in ACC.
  • Michigan at Iowa: Hawkeyes put 9-game winning streak and Big Ten title hopes on line.
  • Wisconsin at Ohio State: Badgers are 5-0, but Buckeyes will have to be dethroned by force.
  • Oregon at UCLA: Ducks hope this will be first of two trips to Pasadena this season.
  • Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Who'll gain the right to chase the Longhorns?
  • Georgia at Tennessee: Combined 5-5 record, but there will be some big-time hitting.
  • Connecticut at Pittsburgh: Winner takes a key midseason step toward a bowl game.
  • Tagged: Miami (FL), Michigan, Ohio State, Houston, Penn State, Michigan State, Boise State, Alabama, California, Washington, Mississippi, Washington State, Arkansas, USC, Oregon, Florida, Georgia, UTEP, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Virginia Tech

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