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AT LAST, THE END FINALLY PAYS OFF
October 31, 2007

SCS.com Although not received well critically, the latest installment of the movie Saw came out this weekend just in time for Halloween. While it may not be everybodyís cup of tea, my group of friends always goes to these, so on Monday night we jumped into the new mix of Jigsaw tests designed to help people cure themselves. I thought the Saw series was a great trilogy, but did not believe as I watched the movie that Saw IV (or the already-planned Saw V-VI) should have been made. Then all of a sudden the ending of the movie adds a nice tie-in and twist from Saw III, and the entire continuation of the story is plausible. The ending indeed finally paid off, and it made going to the movie worth it. At this point you are asking, so how does this tie in with college football at all? October comes to an end and now teams face the final month of the season, and a chance to make an ending that will pay off for all the months of preparation and hard work. Also, a new candidate for greatest play in college football history showed up this past weekend which makes the efforts of many over the past few seasons worth watching.

Covering the last point first, hopefully none of my readers missed the highlight shows this weekend because you missed the Division III Trinity-Millsaps game ending. For decades teams have been drawing up super-lateral plays trying to find a way to score on the last play of regulation when the end zone is too far away to throw a Hail Mary into. Unfortunately the success rate of these plays is much worse than the success rate of attempted onside kicks, which is to say touchdowns almost never result from lateral-crazy plays. On one Saturday when Division I turned out a little more bland than usual due to a lack of upsets, the timing was perfect for this kind of ending.

Hereís the synopsis for those who missed it: Trinity ran a quick curl pass play and began laterals all across the middle of the field. Even an offensive lineman got into the mix twice, but he was wise enough to pass the ball quickly to a skill player. Over the course of 15 laterals and 1:02 of real time, the Trinity players wore out the Millsap defenders to the point where they quit on the play when the final lateral bounced off the ground to the Trinity player who eventually ran it into the end zone. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this longest play ever is the fact that not a single flag was thrown for a rules infraction. Many lateral plays end up successful but fail because some offensive lineman does not know what to do with the ball or one illegal block or hold happens in the craziness. That just did not happen for over an entire minute! Some teams have trouble blocking within the rules if a play extends beyond five seconds, let alone more than ten times that.

Of course some will debate that the Cal-Stanford game from the 1980ís with a similar amazing ending is the best college football play of all time. Unfortunately, the Holy Trinity play was the exact same kind of play and twice as nice. There were 15 laterals for Trinity and 1:02 of time spent, whereas Cal had one-third of the laterals (5) and less than half the elapsed time (0:27). The typical sure-fire ways to fail in executing a lateral play (passing to an offensive lineman, bouncing a lateral off the ground) did not stop the Trinity play. Twenty-five years after the vintage lateral play, the dream is affirmed and the crazy lateral play will continue to happen at the end of most games. This is a good thing, as this is one of the most exciting plays in college football. The only thing missing was the band on the field, but that aspect of Cal-Stanford will keep that play as a top one for many more decades.

Moving back to Division I-A, the stretch run is finally upon us. While certain games in November looked big back at the beginning of the season or even a month ago, a rash of upsets in October leaves some games irrelevant and others much bigger than expected. The list of undefeated teams has been trimmed to five, none of which were in the Preseason Top 10. Ohio State and Boston College hold their destiny in their own hands for now, but Kansas and Arizona State could certainly enter the mix by winning out against tough schedules. Hawaii will simply be happy to break into the BCS bowl picture with a 12-0 record, but Fresno State and Boise State remain on the schedule and may be too much for the Warriors. The great thing about this set of teams (beyond each of them being completely unexpected) is that the meat of the conference schedule for all of them comes here in November.

Amazingly, the group of one-loss teams has been shrinking faster than usual this season also. The group currently stands at seven, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Connecticut, West Virginia, Oregon, LSU, and Boise State. Thatís it. The way the November schedule is shaping up, another rash of upsets could provide something so strange as a two-loss team in the BCS Championship. Of course in the season of the unexpected, we should probably expect a perfect BCS scenario where all BCS teams end up with two losses except for two teams who end up undefeated. There could be no way the BCS could get that scenario wrong, and the result would likely be better than having a playoff involving a bunch of undeserving two-loss teams.

For the end to pay off as in Holy Trinity or in Saw IV, November needs to bring us more than the normal level of drama. It would be nice if this season brings a national championship game with two non-traditional teams such as Kansas and Oregon. It seems likely that at least one Cinderella will join the dance this year, as the only traditional powers left in contention are Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, and to a lesser extent West Virginia. No matter how November plays out, letís hope the ending is worth the wait.

Races to keep an eye on: first, the Heisman race couldnít be more different than last year when Troy Smith had it wrapped up in October. Oregon QB Dennis Dixon and Boston College QB Matt Ryan are the frontrunners at this point, but perhaps this is the year when a player on a team with two or more losses wins the Heisman (Florida QB Tim Tebow and Arkansas RB Darren McFadden certainly hope so). The SEC likely comes down to the LSU-Alabama game this weekend and the Big Ten will be determined as usual in OSU-Michigan, but other conference races still have plenty of drama. The Pac-10 will get a frontrunner this week from Oregon-Arizona State, but UCLA plays well against better competition and USC cannot be counted out yet. The Big East looks like a race between West Virginia and Connecticut, but every other team in the conference is still in the race with only two losses. Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri make for a great finish in the Big XII, while Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Wake Forest are making the ACC race interesting. Thereís plenty to watch as the season winds down.

The first game of the week is a little off the radar, but shapes up to be an elimination game in the ACC as Wake Forest visits Virginia. Each of these teams trails the division favorite on opposite halves of the ACC, but both could end up winning their divisions by running though November unscathed. The Demon Deacons began defense of their 2006 ACC title poorly with devastating losses to BC and Nebraska, but a 6-0 run since then has them back in the race. QB Riley Skinner leads the Wake Forest attack, but the real key to their success has been the ďbend-but-not-breakĒ defense. Virginia has been the definition of clutch this season, winning many games within a touchdown. Look for Cavalier RB Cedric Peerman to test the talented linebacker corps across the field all afternoon. Wake Forest is on some kind of roll right now, but the key will be knocking Virginia out early. If the Cavaliers keep this game close, the home crowd advantage and experience of many close games will knock Wake Forest out of ACC contention. That will not happen, as Wake Forest rolls at a 17 point road statement victory.

The second game of the week is a battle for the SEC West, LSU at Alabama. The Saban Bowl is certainly a hot ticket for multiple reasons, but the foremost is that this is the final tough test for LSU before the SEC title game. The winner moves one game away from clinching the West Division and the right to play for the BCS. This game features a difference in styles as Alabama passes the ball very well while LSU runs the ball very well. LSU also has a great championship-caliber defense, which has been exposed by great quarterbacks like Andre Woodson of Kentucky. If thereís any coach which can stop the LSU freight train, itís Nick Saban in a hostile road environment. Tigers QB Matt Flynn will hopefully be healthy and ready to lead LSU to a road victory, but the key to victory will be establishing RB Jacob Hester and wearing down the Tide defense. This game stays closer than many expect, but Alabama makes a critical mistake and hands LSU a ticket to the SEC Championship, LSU by 3.

The top game of the week is Arizona State at Oregon. Thereís nothing like a Pac-10 showdown if you like high scoring affairs, and this game will not disappoint. Arizona State has a potent offense, gaining over 450 yards per game, and it all runs through QB Rudy Carpenter. Carpenter has turned his college career around after transferring, and the Sun Devils might have what it takes to run with the Ducks. For all the ASU offensive accolades, Oregon just does it better. QB Dennis Dixon is a dual-threat deserving attention at all times, while RB Jonathan Stewart already has over 1000 yards this season to go with 9 TD. Oregon rushes for 280 yards per game, and Arizona State will have trouble keeping their defense off the field against this offense. The Ducks always play better in Autzen as well, and this game will be no different. Arizona State never comes out of the gate to play a good first half, but a 2-3 touchdown deficit will be too much to overcome if it happens in this game. Oregon holds on in the second half for a 10 point victory.

GOTW Record to Date: 16-14 (.533)
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 Ė Week 9
1. Ohio State (9-0)
2. Arizona State (8-0)
3. Boston College (8-0)
4. Kansas (8-0)
5. Oregon (7-1)
6. LSU (7-1)
7. Oklahoma (7-1)
8. West Virginia (7-1)
9. Hawaii (8-0)
10. Missouri (7-1)
Just Missed: Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Boise State, Texas

Have a fantastic week! After visiting Penn State last weekend, I have to applaud their fans for being pretty classy and their stadium for being very impressive. There are many wonderful places to watch college football, but the noise in Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, and Beaver Stadium is the best Iíve seen. See you next week!

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