The Sweep

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Iowa's upset of Penn State may have helped the Big 10.
Al Tielemans/SI

NOTE: For my column from the Alabama-LSU game, click here.

1. That Penn State's loss was a good thing for the Big Ten. With all due respect to Joe Paterno, Daryll Clark, Derrick Williams, Evan Royster ... let's face it: The majority of the country did not want to see Penn State in the BCS title game. Mind you, this had nothing to do with the Nittany Lions themselves and everything to do with their beleaguered conference. If Ohio State had beaten LSU last year, would there have been any outcry toward Penn State? I doubt it. But the issue is moot now thanks to Iowa's last-second upset of the Nittany Lions.

While it's possible Penn State would have avoided a similar BCS title fate -- what if it didn't? A third straight blowout on the big stage might have gotten the Big Ten blackballed. Even worse, even if Iowa had missed that field goal, Florida might have surpassed the Nittany Lions in the polls Sunday. To send a one-loss team to the title game over undefeated Penn State would be like saying the Big Ten is no different than the Mountain West. As strange as it sounds, the best way for the conference to begin restoring its reputation is to steer clear of the title game for now.

2. That the first BCS controversy may take place in November. Penn State's loss coupled with Texas Tech and Alabama's wins cleared up the BCS pecking order considerably. As of now, the stage is set for a Big 12-SEC matchup in Miami. In fact, if Alabama and Florida win their remaining regular-season games, the SEC title game should set up nicely as a de facto national semifinal. If Texas Tech runs the table, obviously the undefeated Red Raiders would be a no-brainer as the other participant.

But what happens if Oklahoma (9-1) beats Texas Tech and Oklahoma State? This could set up a three-way tie in the Big 12 South of which the tiebreaker is highest-ranked team in the Nov. 30 BCS standings. The voters would decide who gets to play for the Big 12 championship. How the heck are they supposed to do that? Would they elevate the Sooners over a Texas team they lost to? Would non-conference wins be part of the decision? Whatever their decision, it could then have a direct impact on the BCS title matchup. In other words, chaos could arrive a week early.  

3. That Shonn Greene deserves some Heisman love. It seems as if the decision was reached weeks ago that a Big 12 quarterback will win the Heisman. As of now, that player figures to be Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who followed up his showcase performance against Texas with a ridiculous 40-of-50, 456-yard, six-touchdown performance against Oklahoma State. That gives him 4,077 yards, 36 TDs and five INTs on the season. Should he slip up, Sam Bradford (No. 2 in pass efficiency) or Colt McCoy (78 percent completions) are right there with him.

But there are still players who run the football, and Iowa's Greene is having a particularly noteworthy season. With his 117 yards and two TDs against Penn State, Greene has now rushed for more than 100 yards in all 10 games this season. He's the nation's third-leading rusher, but his 6.1 yards-per-carry average exceeds those of the two players above him, UConn's Donald Brown (5.5) and Michigan State's Javon Ringer (6.1). It's going to be almost impossible to bust through the Big 12 QBs' monopoly, but Greene should be in the running for a New York invite.

4. That Julio Jones and A.J. Green are SEC defenses' worst nightmares. It's almost unfair that these two freshman receivers are so preternaturally gifted. Alabama's Jones was the best player on the field against LSU, catching seven passes for 128 yards, including the 24-yarder in overtime to set up 'Bama's winning TD. His sheer physicality allowed him to make several of those grabs. Georgia's Green had only two catches for 53 yards against Kentucky, but one of those was a go-ahead 11-yard TD in which he out-leapt three Kentucky defenders.

Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree is clearly the top receiver of 2008, but Jones and/or Green will be inheriting that mantle as soon as next season -- and SEC defenses are going to be stuck playing against them for at least another year after that. The only hope for relief: Both Alabama and (most likely) Georgia will be breaking in new QBs next season. As we've seen with LSU, Auburn and Tennessee (and once upon a time with John Parker Wilson and Matthew Stafford), a young QB in the SEC is more capable than anybody of rendering a team's other weapons a non-factor.

5. That this is a different breed of BCS busters. When you think of previous BCS busters Utah (2004), Boise State ('06) and Hawaii ('07), you immediately associate with them with high-flying offenses. Traditionally, that's how the more successful mid-majors have distinguished themselves (including when Louisville was still in Conference USA and when Marshall was churning out NFL quarterbacks during its MAC glory days).

Last Thursday night, however, top-12 foes Utah and TCU staged a classic defensive struggle. The Horned Frogs' speedy defense, which ranks second in the country behind USC, held the Utes without a touchdown for 59 minutes. But Utah matched wits, holding the Frogs scoreless following the 6:16 mark of the first quarter and setting up Brian Johnson's game-winning TD drive. (They admittedly benefited from two TCU missed field goals late in the game.) It looks extremely likely that either Utah or Boise State will play in a BCS bowl. Both rank in the top 11 nationally in total defense.

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