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By Michael Brown
Sentinel Sports Writer
For teams ranked in college football’s top 25 Associated Press poll, this past week was a prime example of how fragile maintaining the coveted positions can be as teams relied on last second heroics, turnovers, officiating calls and standout performances to add to their win columns.
If there was a prevailing theme last weekend among several ranked teams it would probably be summarized in a single word: survival. Most passed the test, one didn’t-and the top 25 went relatively unscathed in a mixture of blowouts and narrow victories.
The college weekend also featured exceptional individual performances and a few teams serving notice with “statement wins” both at home and on the road. The football landscape is sure to change this upcoming weekend as more conference teams lock horns and non-conference opponents jockey to put themselves in a space to make a run at the BCS.
Two teams that were waiting in the weeds the past few weeks for an opportunity to prove their viability were the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Arizona Wildcats and neither disappointed.
Ranked No. 6 in the latest poll, Nebraska traveled to Seattle and defeated the Washington Huskies decisively, 56-21.
Expected to be a Heisman showcase for Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, instead, turned into an exhibition of vintage Nebraska football as both of its lines dominated at the point-of-attack. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said during the preseason that this year’s defense could potentially be better than last season’s, which featured top NFL pick Ndamukong Suh.
It’s hard to argue with Pelini after Nebraska limited Washington to 246 total yards. The Huskers also forced Locker to play under duress leading to the worst statistical output of his career. Locker finished four of 20 passing for 71 yards with two interceptions, all but ending his Heisman hopes.
Arizona’s victory at home against No. 9 Iowa, 34-27, was also impressive, although the Wildcats choked away a late lead. From the outset, Arizona was led by quarterback Nick Foles who finished 28 for 39 for 303 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The win helped garner national recognition for the ‘Cats as they leaped up in the polls from No. 24 to 14, and are now a viable threat to compete for the Pac-10 title.
Among the standout individual performances from the weekend, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden was the most prolific. In a 65-28 victory against Tulsa, Weeden was 23 for 32 for 409 yards passing and threw six touchdowns.
Top 25 close calls
Several teams just missed being upset by unranked opponents as No. 6 Texas needed a fourth quarter touchdown to put away Texas Tech 24-14, and No.7 Oklahoma survived a late surge by Air Force to squeak out a 27-24 victory.
The 11th ranked Wisconsin Badgers needed a late blocked field goal at home to prevent Arizona State from tying the score, resulting in a 20-19 win.
Late in the fourth, after Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall scored a touchdown, the Sun Devils’ kicker Thomas Weber lined up for the field goal, but had it blocked by Wisconsin’s Jay Valai.
Arkansas, ranked No. 12, also put on its Houdini act in a 31-24 win at Georgia after blowing a 14-point lead. After the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the fourth tying the score at 24, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett threw the game-winning touchdown pass to receiver Greg Childs with 15 seconds remaining, narrowly escaping the upset.
No. 12 Michigan survived a furious 20-point fourth quarter rally by UMASS and held on, 42-37. The Wolverines leading 35-17 after the third quarter relented on defense and needed a late score to avoid being upset by another Football Championship Subdivision team. Three years ago, Michigan lost at home to Appalachian State.
Big games this week
When the college football schedules were announced and teams were assigned game dates and times, Alabama at Arkansas is a matchup I’m sure every fan circled as must-see TV.
Still ranked No. 1, the defending national champion Crimson Tide will receive its first true test this season against the Razorbacks in an SEC-West match that has a number of national implications.
First, if the Razorbacks earn the win, Ohio State will surely move up to No. 1 and teams like Oklahoma, Oregon and Nebraska will ascend as well, provided they win. Mallett’s Heisman chances largely hinge on his performance against a young but talented Alabama defense.
No. 24 Oregon State will visit No. 3 Boise State for a pivotal contest that could also potentially throw the rankings into a tailspin. Fans and critics alike of Boise State will especially take note during this game as it features the Broncos’ last non-conference opponent.
The Broncos, who are likely to run away with the WAC, probably need to win decisively and impress the AP voters due to its strength of schedule likely taking a hit because of its conference.
In another premier SEC game, No. 12 South Carolina visits No. 17 Auburn; No. 22 West Virginia travels to No. 15 LSU and No. 16 Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend.