National College Football

Wild weekend in remote regions

Polls don’t reflect how it ranked with the best

By Mark Blaudschun
September 20, 2010

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The games over the weekend didn’t have the buildup of those on Sept. 11.

There was no Atlantic Coast Conference-Big Ten showdown, such as Miami at Ohio State that weekend, or no Big Ten-Southeastern Conference battle such as Penn State at Alabama. Not even an ACC-Big 12 meeting of once and perhaps 2010 national champions such as Florida State at Oklahoma (well, at least in the case of the Sooners).

The home teams and higher-ranked squads won those Sept. 11 games easily.

What the games over this weekend had was better. There were no showdown meetings of ranked teams, but from noon Saturday until slightly past 2 a.m. yesterday morning, one could watch games with panache.

Some of you probably had to put a cool towel on your remote, especially Saturday night, when one could go from game to game to game in which the result was in question.

In the grand scheme of things, Michigan’s closer-than-it-wanted win over Massachusetts, Auburn’s come-from-behind overtime win over Clemson, Michigan State’s startling OT triumph over Notre Dame, and Arizona’s wild win over Iowa had no major impact in the rankings.

But in terms of entertainment value? Off the charts.

The highlights:

Michigan 42, UMass 37 — Maybe the Wolverines should try to upgrade their schedule — away from Football Championship Subdivision schools. In 2007, the Wolverines were stunned in the Big House by FCS powerhouse Appalachian State, 34-32.

Saturday, UMass had a 17-7 lead in the second quarter before Michigan started playing the way it can — at least offensively — to take a 21-17 lead. By the fourth quarter, the Wolverines seemed to have the game well in hand with a two-TD lead, only to have UMass come storming back. The Minutemen were a recovered onside kick away from creating another embarrassing moment for Michigan, of which there have been more than a few in the past few years.

“You can’t be upset with a win,’’ said coach Rich Rodriguez, who seemed exactly that after the game. “But you can be upset with the way you play. And we did not play well.’’

Michigan safety John Kovacs was more explicit. “They came out and smacked us in the mouth,’’ he said.

UMass didn’t get the win, but it got more than a little respect. Perhaps the Big East, which is searching for some additions, should consider adding UMass as a New England partner for UConn.

Auburn 27, Clemson 24 — Here’s the good news for the ACC. Basketball practice starts in less than a month and Duke is the defending national champion and probably the preseason choice to give the ACC its third consecutive Tobacco Road national champion (North Carolina won it two years ago).

Football? Not so good.

In the preseason, the ACC puffed out its chest about five ranked teams.

Virginia Tech is 1-2, with losses to Boise State (OK) and James Madison (what?). The Hokies bounced back Saturday with a solid 49-27 win over East Carolina, but the defense, normally a mainstay, has to be a concern for coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Hokies don’t figure to have an easy time this week at Boston College, considering they have lost to the Eagles the last two times they have come to Alumni Stadium.

North Carolina? The Tar Heels have internal problems, have losses to Louisiana State and Georgia Tech, and could lose again this week at Rutgers.

Georgia Tech? It has been OK. But what happened in that loss to Kansas two weeks ago?

Miami? The ’Canes might be fine, but they looked lost on the road at Ohio State and must deal with Pittsburgh on the road Thursday night.

Florida State? Offensively, the Seminoles appear to be in good shape. But defensively? Oklahoma took them apart.

The sleeper team might be North Carolina State, which is 3-0 after its solid win over Cincinnati Thursday. Tom O’Brien’s team will be tested with Georgia Tech this week. “If you’ve got a QB, you are going to be a contender,’’ said BC coach Frank Spaziani. And NC State’s Russell Wilson is pretty good.

Clemson? Good, but not great, although it did come up with a solid effort in the loss at Auburn, in which Clemson squandered a 17-0 lead and didn’t lose until a potential tying field goal in OT was negated by a penalty. The next kick by Chandler Catanzaro was wide left, and Auburn went on to win.

All of this may be good news for BC, which is coming off a bye week. If the Eagles can develop some offensive consistency, especially at quarterback, they could be a factor in the wide-open ACC.

Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 A field goal in OT gave Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish a 3-point lead, and the defense held Michigan State enough to force what looked like an “iffy’’ Spartans field goal try.

So what did Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio do? Call for a fake, with holder Aaron Bates throwing a pass to receiver Charlie Gantt, who rumbled 29 yards for the winning score.

“We knew Notre Dame wasn’t going to be expecting that,’’ said Bates, who is also Michigan State’s punter. “That’s the last thing anybody was expecting.’’

“We always name our trick plays after movies, we keep it fun,’’ said Dantonio. “We actually put it in on Wednesday. It worked every time. I made the call, ‘Little Giants,’ and I said a little prayer.’’

There are more than a few people saying prayers for Dantonio after the 54-year-old had a mild heart attack shortly after the game.

The coach had surgery to put a stent in a blocked blood vessel leading to the heart. He’s expected to remain in the hospital a few more days. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will lead the team during Dantonio’s indefinite absence.

Dr. Chris D’Haem, who performed the relatively common procedure to restore blood flow, said, “Fortunately, his heart damage is very minimal. He’s going to do very well and we’re very optimistic he’ll have a full recovery.’’

Arizona 34, Iowa 27 — Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi was sacked four consecutive times in the Wildcats’ victory over the Hawkeyes, in which Arizona blew a three-TD second-half lead and still escaped with the win.

Nick Foles hit William Wright with a late 4-yard touchdown pass for the Wildcats.

Heisman rundown
The one positive for the Wolverines was that quarterback Denard Robinson did not hurt his Heisman Trophy hopes. Robinson was again a force with 345 total yards, including 104 yards and a TD on the ground, and 10 of 14 for 241 yards and two TDs through the air. Terrelle Pryor was sizzling in Ohio State’s 43-7 win over Ohio, completing 16 straight passes in one stretch. The defending trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, made his season debut against Duke after missing the first two games with a knee injury. All Ingram did was score a pair of TDs and rush for 151 yards in a 62-13 win . . . Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore threw for 370 yards and two TDs in a 51-6 win over Wyoming.

A sad case
Who’s not hot? Houston QB Case Keenum, who was injured for the second week in a row in a 31-13 loss to UCLA. Keenum suffered a concussion last week and a leg injury Saturday . . . Washington QB Jake Locker was a woeful 4 for 20 for 71 yards with two interceptions in the Huskies’ 56-21 loss to Nebraska . . . Ohio State is 41-0-1 since 1921 against teams from the state of Ohio . . . Oregon, which beat Portland State, 69-0, has scored 189 points in 180 minutes of football. New Mexico, which lost to Utah, 56-14, has allowed 180 points in 180 minutes . . . Start time at Alumni Stadium for BC’s game against Virginia Tech is noon.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at