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ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Big Ten is in a boring State

October 26, 2008|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Penn State kicked a field goal, and then Ohio State did.

Ohio State tacked on another, and then Penn State missed one.

And then, late, an Ohio State quarterback fumbled, and before you knew it people were pulling Penn State's backup quarterback out of a goal-line pile that resulted, with 6 minutes 25 seconds left, in the game's only touchdown.

Joe Paterno, relegated to the Ohio Stadium press box, looked down from high above, with Woody Hayes possibly peering down from even higher.

What tension, what drama, what a job by the chain gang moving those sticks. . . . what in Helena was that?

It was Penn State 13, Ohio State 6, that's what it was.

And you wonder why no one wants to see the Big Ten Conference champion back in another national title game.

On a day when top-10 Florida and Texas Tech each scored 63 points, Oklahoma scored 58 and Georgia scored 52, Ohio State and Penn State pounded each other senseless, and almost pointless, in Columbus, Ohio.

Ohio State is finally two-loss dead, a national nuisance no more, but now Penn State lives and breathes and lurks.

The Nittany Lions are three wins -- against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State -- from finishing 12-0.

Whether that delivers Penn State to the Bowl Championship Series title game Jan. 8 in South Florida depends on what happens on the field and what gurgles in six computers.

Penn State is No. 3 in the BCS, and probably needs a loss from No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Alabama to get in, if you believe the undefeated champions of this year's best two conferences, the Big 12 and the Southeastern, deserve to settle it on the field.

If it's a close race, though, with three unbeaten teams vying for two spots, might the USA Today voting coaches turn on the Tide in order to make sure Paterno is not denied?

If the choice is between Nick Saban or Paterno?

The coaches turned on Michigan, their No. 1 in 1997, to make sure Nebraska's outgoing coach, Tom Osborne, got half a share of the crown. In 2003, the coaches turned on USC, too, delivering first-place votes to Louisiana State on election day.

Texas and Alabama each won Saturday, but chances are one or both will slip up eventually, which would put Penn State in position to deliver a fairy-tale ending to its hobbling coach, who turns 82 in December.

And if this happens, who cares if the story might be better than another Big Ten team getting sent to defeat against the SEC.

The top 10, for the second straight Saturday, produced little chaos.

No. 1 Texas held on to beat No. 7 Oklahoma State, 28-24, in Austin, Texas, and the moral of that story is: These things happen.

"I heard somebody say this week that this game would be a blowout," Texas Coach Mack Brown said, "and they were fools."

You can't bring your "A" game to Austin every week, and Texas didn't.

But so what?

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had a pass intercepted and fumbled too. He had seven incomplete passes -- the nerve of this kid.

Every national title winner can look back on a close call or three. Just ask, um, Texas, which won the big BCS sombrero three seasons ago, 41-38, but only because the Longhorns stopped USC on fourth and two.

Two years ago, Florida escaped a near-loss experience against South Carolina and went on to win the national title.

USC went wire to wire as No. 1 in 2004, but that didn't mean the Trojans didn't nearly lose to California or get all they wanted from cross-town rival UCLA.

Everyone remembers Ohio State finished 14-0 and won the national title in 2002 with a shocking win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

Most people don't remember the Buckeyes won games that year by six points (Penn State), five points (Michigan) and four points (Cincinnati and Purdue).

What about 1997, when Nebraska won a share of the title because a ball bounced off Shevin Wiggins' foot into Matt Davison's diving arms for a game-saving touchdown against Missouri?

Texas (8-0) survived -- and advanced.

"When the No. 1 team is playing No. 6, I don't count that as a scare," Brown said. "I call that a close game."

Alabama (8-0) survived Tennessee and Penn State survived Ohio State, setting up a possible November to remember.

Texas, in consecutive weeks, has beaten Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State and now gets to visit No. 8 Texas Tech next week in Lubbock.

Have a nice trip.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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