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October 14, 2007

Kentucky's victory captures headlines

The season didn't wait for the BCS standings to be released to create chaos.

A day before the first BCS rankings would be released, the top two teams in the polls lost.

The developments of the last three weeks will leave the computers and pollsters considering the merits of South Florida and Boston College in the national championship picture - along with traditional powerhouse Ohio State.

Besides those three, Hawaii, Kansas and Arizona State were the only other teams to escape the weekend undefeated. But there's a glut of one-loss (LSU, Cal, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC, Kentucky, South Carolina, West Virginia) teams anxious to see where they fit in the first BCS standings, which will be released later today.

Team of the week: Kentucky

Forget Devery Henderson's Hail Mary touchdown catch for LSU in 2002. Let's call this Kentucky team the Bluegrass Miracle.

Midway through the season, the Wildcats have established a Heisman campaign for quarterback Andre Woodson, made people believe in Rich Brooks, ended their losing streak to Louisville and became players in the SEC race thanks to a 43-37 triple overtime win over No. 1 LSU.

The Wildcats have floated between the status of doormat to Hal Mumme/Jared Lorenzen-fueled novelties, but not this year.

Kentucky has positioned itself to be right in the middle of a muddy national picture and has an opportunity to stay in the race by playing host to Florida next week. No one is laughing at the Wildcats anymore.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: So much for South Florida being on upset watch. The Bulls get to stay in the top five after obliterating Central Florida. Matt Grothe wasn't the reason USF beat Auburn and West Virginia earlier this year, but he has carried the Bulls' offense the last two weeks. He posted 100 passing yards and 100 rushing yards against Florida Atlantic and UCF. The defense held Kevin Smith to a season-low 55 yards, 116 short of his season average.

Breakdown: Les Miles has built a reputation of being a gambler with his play calls, but he seemed to go against his nature by calling four consecutive run plays in the Tigers' final possession in triple overtime against Kentucky. Commonwealth Stadium erupted when LSU couldn't convert a fourth-and-2. But no one was sharp for LSU against the Wildcats. Matt Flynn didn't play as well. Brandon LaFell dropped some passes and an injury knocked Chevis Jackson after the game, opening the door for Kentucky to pick on freshman Jai Eugene.

What you might have missed
• Indiana missed out on its first try for bowl eligibility with a 52-27 loss at Michigan State. The Hooisers will try again next week against Penn State in Bloomington, Ind.
Super stats I: Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery caught 13 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-48 win over Rice. If that's not enough, he added 81 yards on kickoff returns.
Super stats II: Ole Miss defensive lineman Greg Hardy had 13 tackles, three sacks, 4.5 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup in a 27-24 loss to Alabama.
• If only Northwestern could have taken Duke to overtime earlier this year. The Wildcats have won back-to-back Big Ten games in overtime after defeating Minnesota 49-48 in double overtime Saturday. C.J. Bacher has turned his season around by completing 79 of 106 passes for 990 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two weeks.
• The nation's worst defense managed to hold Louisiana-Monroe running back Calvin Dawson to fewer than 100 yards for the first time in 10 games. Dawson ran for only 65 yards in a 31-21 loss to North Texas for Todd Dodge's first win as a college coach.
• Mike Flynt, a 59-year-old grandfather, made his long-awaited debut at Division III Sul Ross State. He played left end on kicking plays and held his own on a game-winning field goal in triple overtime against Texas Lutheran.

Breakout: More on Kentucky: With 12 catches last year, Steve Johnson was one of the least heralded contributors in the Wildcats' offense. This season, he has become a go-to receiver. He was wide open on the game-winning pass to defeat Louisville and then had a 7-yard touchdown catch in double overtime to beat LSU.

Breakdown: Cal's Pac-10 and national championship hopes were dealt a blow by an ill-advised scramble. Redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, starting in place of injured Nate Longshore, scrambled from the Oregon State 12-yard line with 14 seconds left and no timeouts. Time ran out well before Cal's field goal unit could set up in a 31-28 loss.

Breakout: Michigan has put the losses to Appalachian State and Oregon out of its mind and won five consectutive games. Why did it take the voters so long to notice? The Wolverines were buried in the "others receiving votes" in the AP, coaches and Harris polls last week before barely breaking back in this week with a No. 24 ranking in the AP Top 25 and the 25th spot in the Harris rankings. The coaches continue to hold out. There's not much of a consistent standard among voters, who kept USC in the top 10 in each poll despite the upset loss to Stanford last week.

Breakdown: If you didn't do so last week, cross Purdue off your list of Big Ten contenders. Ohio State and Michigan hammered the Boilermakers the last two weeks after Purdue started 5-0. Receiver Dorien Bryant has been dormant in that span, other than a touchdown against the Wolverines once the contest was out of hand.

Breakdown: Tradition doesn't win games, as many teams are learning. Nebraska takes its turn as a historical power in crisis mode. After a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State, the Cornhuskers have allowed at least 40 points in four of five games. The Nebraska fans famed for their gracious demeanors have their limits. Defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove might be less popular in Lincoln than Frank Solich ever was. Sam Keller, too, has proven to be no savior. He has thrown at least one interception in each game this year.

Breakdown: Saturday probably marked the end of Darren McFadden's run for the Heisman. McFadden has been banged up all year, but he hadn't been ineffective until he faced Auburn. McFadden was held to 43 yards, his lowest total since losing to USC in the season opener last year.

Breakout: There seems to be no end for the ways Oklahoma can score. Malcolm Kelly and DeMarco Murray had quiet days in the 41-31 win over Missouri. No matter. Chris Brown can run for three fourth-quarter touchdowns. With Murray, Brown and Allen Patrick, the Sooners could have the deepest (healthy) backfield in the country.

Breakdown: Is there such a thing as too creative. Missouri is finding out. The Tigers turned the ball over twice on non-conventional plays. One was an interception when receiver Jeremy Maclin lined up at quarterback. The other was an end-around when Chase Daniel and Maclin has some miscommunication regarding the handoff.

Breakout: USC freshman Joe McKnight picked a perfect time for his first big plays with the Trojans. USC's offensive line and running back corps is in shambles due to injury. The passing game has been ineffective. But McKnight responded with a 45-yard punt return to set up the game-winning touchdown against Arizona and added a 59-yard run to set up a fourth-quarter field goal in the 20-13 win.

Breakout: The change at defensive coordinator paid off this week for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders allowed 365 total yards, but kept Texas A&M out of the end zone for the final 53 minutes. Adding to the bizarre day for Texas Tech: Shannon Woods ran the ball a season-high 21 times.

Breakdown: The honeymoon is over for Big East teams not from Tampa, Fla. Cincinnati and Connecticut weren't as fortunate as the Bulls, each losing their first games of the season to Louisville and Virginia, respectively.

Stat that counts: Seven

Top five teams to lose in the last three weeks.

Quote of the weekend

"Louisville's got a great defense. It's not like you're just playing against air out there." - Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk on a defense that ranks 99th in the country.

All eyes on ...

All eyes will be on showdowns in the SEC: Auburn goes to LSU, Florida goes to Kentucky and Tennessee goes to Alabama.

Michigan at Illinois: After shutting down Purdue, Michigan tries to have success against another spread offense in Champaign.

Southern Cal at Notre Dame: This one probably won't stand out in the long history of the rivalry.

Top Performers
Colt Brennan, Hawaii
44 of 75, 545 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions in 42-35 win over San Jose State in overtime on Friday.
Brennan completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since Oct. 1, 2005. He also has nine interceptions in his last three games.
C.J. Bacher, Northwestern
41 of 58, 470 yards, four touchdowns in 49-48 win over Minnesota in double overtime
Two weeks, two overtime wins for Bacher and the Wildcats.
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
30 of 37, 425 yards, four total touchdowns in 35-7 win over Texas A&M
Finally, big numbers in a big game for the Red Raiders.
Trevor Vittatoe, UTEP
38 of 55, 409 yards, three touchdowns, interception in 45-42 loss to East Carolina in overtime on Saturday
Redshirt freshman has rarely been noticed but has become Mike Price's latest protégé.
Paul Smith, Tulsa
34 of 39, 385 yards, three total touchdowns in 38-31 win over Marshall.
Smith has topped 300 passing yards in every game this year.
Chad Hall, Air Force
31 carries, 256 yards, four touchdowns in 45-21 win over Colorado State
Set school record for rushing yards.
James Starks, Buffalo
35 carries, 244 yards, three touchdowns in 43-33 win over Toledo
Starks had the first 200-yard rushing day for Buffalo in 11 years.
Reggie Arnold, Arkansas State
24 carries, 225 yards in 52-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette
Part of a record setting day for Arkansas State, which had 681 yards of offense.
Dantrell Savage, Oklahoma State
25 carries, 212 yards, touchdown in 45-14 win over Nebraska
Savage is the latest opponent to shred the Cornhuskers defense.
Matt Forte, Tulane
32 carries, 212 yards in 26-21 loss to UAB
Forte has turned in back-to-back 200-yard games.
Donnie Avery, Houston
13 receptions, 346 yards, two touchdowns in 56-48 win over Rice
Set C-USA and school records with receiving totals. He finished with 427 all-purpose yards.
Lucas Taylor, Tennessee
11 receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown in a 33-21 win over Mississippi State
The Volunteers needed Taylor and three second-half field goals to avoid the upset.
Kenny Britt, Rutgers
Six receptions, 176 yards, touchdown in 38-14 win over Syracuse
Got Rutgers back on track against Syracuse.
Ryan Grice-Mullen, Hawaii
14 receptions, 175 yards, touchdown in 42-35 win over San Jose State in overtime on Friday.
One of three 100-yard receivers for Hawaii against San Jose State.
Stephen Williams, Toledo
15 receptions, 172 yards, two touchdowns in 43-33 loss to Buffalo
The teams in this game combined for a 55-point first half

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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