Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Nearing the halfway point in the college football season, there are certainly some surprising developments along with the usual subplots. The reported demise of a conference may have been premature. The NCAA can't get out of its own way, and two national powers got their leaders back. It all adds up to what should be an exciting last six weeks of the regular season.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Both the Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners got their Heisman Trophy winners back under center this past weekend.
Florida's Tim Tebow suffered a concussion in a win over Kentucky two weeks ago, and although he didn't miss a start, there was the real possibility that he may have sat at LSU this week, something no one would blame him for. However, Tebow is a warrior and although he didn't light up the Tigers, he did manage the game well, throwing the only TD in the contest in the second quarter in a 13-3 defensive struggle. Concussions are tough to come back from in a short period of time, but expect Tebow to be much sharper this week against Arkansas, and the rest of the way.
The Sooners suffered big-time with Sam Bradford on the sideline, although his freshman replacement, Landry Jones, played well. Still, Oklahoma dropped games to both BYU and Miami-Florida and is now all but out of the national title race. There is still a Big 12 title to decide though and Bradford looked solid in his return this weekend, passing for nearly 400 yards (389) and one TD. The nation will see just how far he has come this week, as Oklahoma and Texas collide in Dallas.
The return of Sam Bradford should keep Oklahoma in the Big 12 title race.
MICRO-MANAGING: Does anyone out there not think the NCAA is a little too meddlesome? I know it is a slippery slope when it comes to players and corruption from outside influences, but Oklahoma State having to continue its season without star wideout Dez Bryant is ridiculous. Yes, the kid lied to the NCAA, but he lied about an incident that wasn't a violation. Bryant spent some time with Deion Sanders and because he failed to disclose it fully to the NCAA, he is now ineligible. The Cowboys are going through the appeals process, but shouldn't the NCAA just employ some common sense? This is not a nefarious rule-breaker, but a talented player who crumbled under the pressure of the NCAA. The job of the NCAA should be to protect the student-athlete, but once again failed to do so here.
BETTER THAN ADVERTISED: Has the Big East taken a step back in terms of national prominence? That is the sentiment around the country, but if you were to ask the 10 teams that have already played Cincinnati and South Florida, the answer may be different. Both teams come into their showdown this week with unblemished 5-0 records.
The Bearcats are getting it done behind the efforts of their Heisman Trophy candidate, Tony Pike, under center. Pike has completed over 66 percent of his passes, for 1,493 yards, with 13 TDs and just three INTs. Cincinnati has big wins over Rutgers, Oregon State and Fresno State already, and there are very few bumps left in the road, with USF and West Virginia looking to be the toughest matchups the rest of the way. An undefeated season will obviously earn the Bearcats a well-deserved BCS Bowl game, but could it be for a national title?
USF has suffered a huge setback with the loss of talented QB Matt Grothe, but the Bulls are built around defense and that is where they have thrived, ranking fifth nationally in scoring defense (9.4 ppg) and 10th in total defense (263 ypg). The competition hasn't exactly been top-notch (Wofford, Western Kentucky, Charleston Southern, a struggling Florida State and Syracuse), but that will change this week with Cincinnati. West Virginia and Miami-Florida are still on the docket as well.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Texas Tech QB Steven Sheffield passed for 490 yards and seven TDs in his first career start, as the Red Raiders routed Kansas State. Other QBs of note include Bowling Green's Tyler Sheenan (505 yards and four TDs against Kent State), Houston's Case Keenum (434 yards, four TDs against Mississippi State), Florida State's Christian Ponder (359 yards, five TDs against Georgia Tech), Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt (140 rushing yards and three TDs, 131 yards passing and one TD against FSU), Wake Forest's Riley Skinner (360 yards, four TDs against Maryland) and Duke's Thaddeus Lewis (459 yards and five passing TDs, one rushing against NC State).
The top tailbacks include Memphis' Curtis Steele (240 yards, two TDs against UTEP), Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers (189 yards rushing, 82 receiving, four TDs against Stanford), North Texas' Lance Dunbar (187 yards, four TDs against UL-Lafayette) and Western Michigan's Brandon West (153 yards, three TDs against Toledo), and BYU's Harvey Unga (149 yards, three TDs against UNLV).
SNEAK PEEK: There are four top-25 showdowns this week, but the Red River Rivalry tops them all, as the annual clash between Oklahoma and Texas will take center stage. The Sooners have their Heisman winner back under center, while the Longhorns hope it isn't long before their signal-caller (Colt McCoy) wins the award.
Other intriguing top-25 collisions include eighth-ranked Cincinnati at 21st- ranked South Florida, sixth-ranked USC at 25th-ranked Notre Dame and fourth- ranked Virginia Tech at 19th-ranked Georgia Tech.