The Top Ten wild, wacky and eye-popping news and notes from Week 9
1. A standing O-vation - Coach O managed to win a game of blackjack from a deck with no face cards on Saturday night, leading USC to a 19-3 win over Utah. An already thin roster depleted by sanctions and injuries got Kate Moss-thin once the game started after the Trojans' starting right tackle and safety went down in the first quarter. Three walk-ons filled in at tight end. Freshmen and walk-ons, including a former intern in the SID office, played at wide receiver. And safety Dion Bailey started the game in street clothes and ended up on the field, taking a pain-killing injection to fill in for the injured Su'a Cravens.
"Coach O said, 'This is one of those kinds of little-brother-takes-over-for-big-brother games,' " senior receiver De'Von Flournoy said after the game. It's the type of heart USC couldn't, or wouldn't, display under Lane Kiffin.
2. A Pat on the head - Illinois ranks 58th nationally in scoring offense this season, up from 122nd a year ago. New offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has helped the Illini leap close to 50 spots in FBS's total offense ratings and nearly 70 spots in passing yardage. None of that mattered against Michigan State on Saturday. The Spartans held Illinois to 128 total yards on only 42 snaps (21 passes for 103 yards with an interception, 21 rushes for 25 yards) and eight total first downs in a 42-3 whitewashing. Illinois notched those three points on their first drive of the game, and then went punt, fumble, turnover on downs, interception, punt, punt and punt over the rest of the game.
At 7-1 with just a four-point loss to Notre Dame, Michigan State rightly entered the national rankings this week at No. 24 in both major polls. Speaking of rankings, Narduzzi's unit leads the nation in total defense, rushing defense and first downs defense, and ranks third or better in scoring defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense and third down defense.
3. What changed? - Six weeks ago yesterday, Texas allowed 679 total yards and a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss to BYU. Now on a four-game winning streak, Texas is not only winning but leaning on its defense to do so. Last night (and this morning) Texas held TCU to 246 total yards (3.9 yards per play), 1.9 yards per carry, 12 first downs and four-of-16 on third down in a 30-7 victory. That's 25 percent of BYU's yards per carry total, 36 percent of BYU's first downs, 52 percent of BYU's third down success and 17.5 percent of the Cougars' point total.
Texas now leads the Big 12 in scoring defense and leads the conference in total defense in league play.
4. A pair of surely elite wins - We mentioned this early in the day but, dadgummit, it bears repeating. Western Michigan earned its first win of the P.J. Fleck era, stuffing one-win Massachusetts on a two-point try with 22 seconds left to preserve a 31-30 victory.
CONGRATS on an ELITE win for our players, administration, community, Fans, support staff, & Waldo CREW! Honored to be your Head Coach! RTB!!— P.J. Fleck (@Coach_Fleck) October 26, 2013
Down in New Mexico, Doug Martin's Aggies earned their first win, 34-29, by stopping Abilene Christian's Hail Mary catch-and-run at the three-yard line on the final play of the game. I should mention Abilene Christian is still in the transitional process of moving from Division II to FCS.
5. We have lift off - Fresh off a 49-14 stomping of Rutgers, Tony Levine's Houston squad is 6-1 and has surpassed 2012's win total from a 5-7. New coordinator Doug Meachem has kept last season's yardage totals intact, Houston ranked in the top 20 in total offense and passing offense this year and last year, but has increased the Cougars' scoring average by nearly 10 points per game. How? They stopped turning the ball over. After giving the ball away 35 times in 12 games last season, Houston has committed seven turnovers through its first seven games. Add that to a defense that's forced 27 turnovers and you get a 2.86 turnover margin that is more than a full turnover per game better than any FBS team since 2007.
6. We are now set for some epic conference showdowns - Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Stanford, Baylor and Oklahoma are all off next week. That means two things: 1) Week 10 will be lame, and 2) Week 11 will be awesome. The top spot in the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the line on Thursday night in Palo Alto and Waco, while LSU and Alabama will stage the Super Bowl of the South on Saturday, November 9. First place may not be on the line thanks to LSU's losses to Georgia and Ole Miss, but Les Miles' bunch has been the only team to consistently challenge Alabama dating back to 2008. And don't forget about Mega MACtion on Wednesday night, when undefeated Northern Illinois will host one-loss Ball State.
7. Take a bow, Jeff Quinn - After a rough three weeks to start the season, blowout losses to Ohio State and Baylor and a punch-drunk, jet-lagged five overtime win over Stony Brook, Quinn's Buffalo team has pushed its winning streak to six games in outright dominant fashion. The Bulls' last five wins have come by a combined score of 189-50.
8. Hal Mumme goes off - Baylor and Texas A&M did their usual things on Saturday, but the most impressive offensive effort in the Lone Star State belonged to SMU on Saturday. The Mustangs put up 723 yards of total offense, 635 of them from quarterback Garrett Gilbert, in a 59-49 win over Temple. After falling behind 28-7 in the second quarter, the Mustangs on their next eight possessions (seven touchdowns, one field goal), until running out the clock at game's end.
9. Grambling gives its best effort for its third coach - A week after taking a 1-0 loss thanks to forfeit, Grambling played its first game under their second interim coach, Dennis Winston, and came as close to victory as it has for the entirety of its 13-game winning streak. The Tigers built a 17-7 second quarter lead but fell 23-17 in overtime to Texas Southern.
10. A dandy in Division II - We mentioned Friday the Division II game worthy of your attention was No. 6 Henderson State, owners of Division II's top passing and scoring offense, visiting Harding, owners of Division II's top rushing offense and the fifth-best scoring offense. Neither team quite hit their averages. Harding ran for only 390 yards, while Henderson State threw for 368. Harding won the total offense battle, 486-438, but Henderson State won the game, 45-30.