First and 10 - Revenge of the Nerds
1. 2012 has been a great year for private schools. Notre Dame is 12-0 and will play for the BCS National Championship. Stanford is 10-2 and one win away from the Rose Bowl. Northwestern is 9-3 and will play on New Year's Day. Vanderbilt is 8-4 for the first time in forever. Tulsa is 9-3 and hosts the Conference USA championship on Saturday. Baylor and SMU are going bowling for an unprecedented third straight year. Rice is bowl eligibile for the first time in five seasons. TCU has competed well in Year 1 of the Big 12.
2. Earlier in the year we offered turnover margin as the stat that best correlates with winning. Well, turnover margin, meet your new competition: red zone defense. The top 17 teams in red zone defense have a composite record of 164-37 (.816). Included among that group are AP No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Florida and No. 6 Oregon.
3. Offense wins again. According to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, teams are on track to set an FBS record of 29.6 points per game. A round of applause to all the offensive coaches out there and, to you defensive coaches: there's always next year.
4. The Big 12 has achieved near perfect balance. Nowhere in college football does offense rule the day quite like the Big 12. In fact, the conference leads FBS with 36.1 points per game, per team, a full touchdown ahead of the rest of college football. Not coincidentally, an absurd 90 percent of Big 12 teams will be going bowling this season.
5. Has Auburn reached uncharted territory? With the firing of Gene Chizik on Sunday, Auburn's last three coaches have now produced undefeated seasons, and all three have now been fired. Terry Bowden led the Tigers to an 11-0 season in 1993 and was let go in 1998. Tommy Tuberville went 13-0 in 2004 and was dismissed in 2008. Chizik, of course, went 14-0 and won the national championship in 2010 only to be let go 23 months later.
6. He won't win any awards this season, but the work of Hugh Freeze and is staff is to be commended. The Rebels reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 with a 41-24 win over Mississippi State, the first time Ole Miss has beaten Dan Mullen. Freeze inherited a team that didn't win an SEC game and ranked in the 100's in a handful of offensive categories. This year's team has leaped 50 spots in most offensive categories, won three SEC games and come close in three others.
7. In case you missed it, ULM - FIU had one of the craziest endings in recent memory. Nursing a 17-10 lead late in the game, ULM quarterback Kolton Browning attempted to take a knee but fumbled at the FIU 40, which was recovered by the Golden Panthers. Two plays later, E.J. Hilliard hit Willis Wright with a 58-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left. Tie game. Luckily for Todd Berry, and Browning, the unthinkable was avoided as the Warhawks won the game in overtime. It was a cold overtime for Berry, as our eyes on the scene reported that he received his Gatorade bath before Browning's fumble.
8. MACtion on the big stage? BCS bylaws dictate that a non-automatic qualifier can earn a BCS berth by ranking in the top 16 while also being ahead of an AQ champion. Kent State enters the MAC Championship ranked No. 17 and, meanwhile, the Big East does not have a single team in this week's BCS rankings. With No. 16 UCLA playing at Stanford on Friday, the Golden Flashes could be BCS bound with a win. Oh, and there's the news that the conference is looking to trademark #MACtion. Big time, indeed.
9. The new cradle of quarterbacks. If Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as expected wins the Heisman Trophy next week, the state of Texas will stake its claim as the gold mine of college football quarterbacking talent, at least when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. Manziel could make it two straight after Baylor's Robert Griffin III won the stiffarm trophy in 2011, and that duo is joined by two-time runner-up Andrew Luck (a Houston product), two-time top three finisher Colt McCoy, two-time top 10 finisher Case Keenum as well as Chase Daniel (4th place in 2007), Graham Harrell (4th place in 2008) and Andy Dalton (9th place in 2010).
10. Conference realignment will create some awkward bowl match-ups. The Poinsettia Bowl announced today it will pit former WAC and Mountain West bunkmates BYU and San Diego State in this year's matchup. BYU, of course, left the Mountain West after Utah declared its intention to join the Pac-12. Texas A&M could be on a collision course with a former Big 12 foe in the Cotton Bowl. As the wheel of realignment keeps spinning, more and more of these matchups will become inevitable.