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Upsets and Bowl Runs

   by Al McMordie - 11/20/2007


2007 has been the year of the upset in college football. It happened again this past weekend, with No. 2 ranked Oregon getting knocked out of the national title picture, followed by Oklahoma. And as we approach the final few weeks of the regular season, there are a lot of key games and teams off emotional highs and lows. This needs to be considered when handicapping games each week. A team off an emotional loss or out of the bowl picture might be more interested in getting the season over with than giving it 100% on the field.

Tennessee is in a tricky emotional spot this weekend. On the one hand, they come off a heart-stopping comeback, as they stunned Vanderbilt, 25-24 at Neyland Stadium. As a result, Tennessee’s chances for an SEC championship appearance are alive. If the Vols beat Kentucky Saturday in Lexington, they'll earn a share of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division and advance (on tie-breakers) to the title game in Atlanta for the first time since 2004. So not only do they have to stop celebrating that wild win, they have to focus on a huge game with championship implications.

"A lesser football team would have bagged it," Coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Character, work ethic, it's a testament to the coaches. The leadership on our team and our seniors really came through. We didn't play well and we won." The Volunteers did not allow a sack and still lead the nation for fewest sacks allowed (three). It was interesting that Tennessee DE Xavier Mitchell said, “I think we played smarter in the second half. We didn't make a ton of adjustments at halftime.â€쳌 Most coaching staffs spend halftime making a lot of adjustments, especially if they are trailing in a must-win game, as was Tennessee.

Kentucky is at the other end of the spectrum for this game. The Wildcats can only help their bowl chances, but are riding a 2-4 SU/ATS run. Kentucky hosts Tennessee on Saturday with hopes of ending a 22-game losing streak to the Vols, but it is off a loss to Georgia, 24-13. "This is a really disappointing moment for me and this team," QB Andre Woodson said. "Our execution on offense has been the problem recently, and it was again. We're doing a poor job of getting ready for these games, and we have to correct that." Added Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks, "It was a very strange game. It was like going to the dentist and getting five or six shots of novocaine because the tooth wasn't numb." These are good indicators to keep an eye on during the week. Is a team focused? Is it out of gas? Confused? All of these can help when assessing whether a team is ready to play the next game.

Clemson has a game with rival South Carolina this weekend, but the Tigers come off a deflating last minute loss to Boston College, 20-17, blowing their chance at the ACC Championship game. “There’s really no way to describe it,â€쳌 one player said. “We were going for the ACC championship and it slipped through our fingers.â€쳌 "It’s kind of a sad group of guys right now," coach Tommy Bowden said. "When you lose a big game, it hurts a little bit more." This year, Clemson's slogan has been, "Finish the Job." Bu they didn’t. Now, can they shake it off and get up for South Carolina? That’s not always easy to do.

And if Clemson players feel dejected this week, how about Alabama? The Tide has a rivalry game with Auburn this weekend, but comes off a shocking 21-14 loss to UL-Monroe -- at home!

The half ended with the game tied at 14, and as Alabama exited the field, the fans showered the team with boos. "I apologize to the people who support this program," said first-year coach Nick Saban. "We represent a great institution here with a great tradition and a lot of pride. I'm certainly not pleased with the way we represented that tradition."

Alabama did not score in the final 42 minutes, 42 seconds, clinching its first loss against a Sun Belt Conference team. "Hopefully, it'll serve as a wake-up call," center Evan Cardwell said. "You can't just show up and win a ballgame." The regret was evident after players emerged from what they said was a quiet locker room. "We're embarrassed right now," said quarterback John Parker Wilson. They should be. And if they think facing Monroe’s defense was difficult, wait until they see Auburn!

Miami of Florida (5-6) is also down in the dumps, losing the last two games 48-0 and 44-14. Now they head north to Boston College, needing a win for bowl eligibility, but playing like garbage. ''We're backed into a corner now,'' UM safety Kenny Phillips said. “We've got to come out swinging, scratching, whatever it takes. We have to have that attitude. Whatever it takes to get the job done. We've got to get to a bowl game.' But right now, man, we can't find a way to win.'' Reports were that the locker room was tense afterward. Miami guard Derrick Morse said, “We still have BC next week to be bowl eligible. We still have a lot to play for. It's not like we're laying down and quitting on the season.'' Of course, talk is cheap. Teams and players have to get it done on the field, and you can tell a lot about whether a team wants to play or has mentally packed it in. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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