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November 28, 2011

Rivals.com Week 13 Conference Call

Here's a quickie look at the weekend's action in a conference-by-conference manner.

Think of it as one final chance to look back at the weekend that was. We will have this conference call every Monday.

ACC

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Boston College. The Eagles capped their late-season surge Friday by winning 24-17 at Miami. Butkus Award finalist Luke Kuechly scored on a 45-yard interception return and became Boston College's leading career tackler as a junior, but the Eagles also got big performances from unlikely sources. Chase Rettig threw for 196 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in one of his best games of the season. TE Chris Pantale, who had scored just once all season, reached the end zone twice against Miami. Although BC's string of 12 consecutive bowl bids will end, the Eagles (4-8) closed the season with two wins in their last three games. The lone loss in that stretch was a narrow 16-14 setback at Notre Dame.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Virginia. There frankly are plenty of candidates for this category, but Virginia gets the dubious honor because the Cavaliers had so much at stake. A victory over Virginia Tech would have given Virginia its first Coastal Division title and would have ended the Hokies' recent history of frustration in the Commonwealth Cup. Virginia instead fell 38-0 at home for its eighth consecutive loss to its in-state rival. Virginia's high-powered rushing attack gained just 30 yards on 26 carries. Michael Rocco threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked four times. Dishonorable mention goes to Wake Forest for falling 41-7 at home to Vanderbilt, Maryland for blowing a 31-point lead at N.C. State and Atlantic Division champion Clemson for suffering its third loss in its past four games.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYERS: Florida State CBs Mike Harris and Greg Reid. Florida State was billed as having perhaps the nation's best collection of cornerbacks before the season, but that group hadn't delivered too many big plays before Saturday. That all changed in a 21-7 victory over Florida. Reid made his first two interceptions of the season and also broke up a pass. Harris delivered his first interception of the season and returned it 89 yards to set up a touchdown.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Miami QB Jacory Harris. After throwing a combined 32 interceptions in his sophomore and junior seasons, Harris took care of the ball much better this season. He had thrown 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions through his first 11 games of the season. Alas, in the final game of his college career, Harris reverted to his old form and was picked off four times in a loss to Boston College. All four of his interceptions came in the second half.

BIG EAST

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: West Virginia's pass rush. The Mountaineers' defense has not been up to the standards coordinator Jeff Casteel has set, particularly in sacking the quarterback. After recording only 16 sacks all season, West Virginia came up with 10 in the 21-20 victory over Pittsburgh. Four of those sacks occurred on Pitt's final possession. Julian Miller, who had 21.5 career sacks entering the season, had only two sacks this season before coming up with four against Pitt. Bruce Irvin had two sacks, giving him five in the past three games.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Syracuse. Whatever worked during Syracuse's last off week didn't work last week. After a 13-day rest, the Orange returned to thrash West Virginia 49-23. But after a 15-day break, the wheels came off in the second half as Cincinnati won 30-13. The offense faced three three-and-outs to start the second half - after giving up a 74-yard kickoff return and a touchdown to start the third quarter. The result was Syracuse's fourth consecutive loss and a 5-6 record going into next week's regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Louisville RB Dominique Brown. Brown didn't have the most prolific numbers for the Cardinals; he wasn't even the offensive player of the game. But Brown rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries as a tailback and in taking "wildcat" snaps. On its game-winning drive, Louisville put the ball in his hands in the red zone; he had 8 yards on four carries, including a risky fourth-and-1 conversion. Brown also rushed for a 9-yard touchdown late to open up a 34-24 lead on USF.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYERS: Rutgers' quarterbacks. The Scarlet Knights passed for 439 yards. But Chas Dodd and Gary Nova were sloppy in a 40-22 loss to Connecticut that knocked the Scarlet Knights out of Big East title contention. Dodd threw an interception and fumbled once, and Dodd threw two picks and lost one fumble. Rutgers' six turnovers - RB Jawan Jamison also fumbled - contributed to Connecticut starting six possessions in Rutgers territory.

BIG TEN

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Nebraska's turn-back-the-clock effort. Injuries and the transition to a new conference may have contributed to some rocky moments for Nebraska this season, but in the final game of the regular season, the Huskers turned in the kind of game expected of them for most of the season. Nebraska's defense was stifling: Iowa TB Marcus Coker rushed for only 87 yards, James Vandenberg was only 16-of-35 with an interception and star WR Marvin McNutt caught only four passes for 29 yards while being covered by Alfonzo Dennard. Nebraska shut out Iowa until the final 3:26 in a 20-7 win. On the other side of the ball, Huskers TB Rex Burkhead looked healthy for the first time in three games, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes' defense has been reliable for most of the season, but they struggled against Michigan. Ohio State led 24-23 at halftime and twice narrowed the deficit to a field goal in the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn't hold Michigan to give Ohio State a chance to win. Some of the Buckeyes' struggles were because of injuries; LB Andrew Sweat out and LB Ryan Shazier played most of the game on a bad leg. But the 444 yards allowed was a season-high for Ohio State. The only other 400-yard game was against Nebraska, another game in which Ohio State struggled in the second half.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray. Gray rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against Illinois in a 27-7 win. After building a 20-point lead in the first half, Minnesota didn't need him to be a factor in the passing game, and he finished 7-of-14 for 85 yards. His first season at quarterback started rocky, with losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State, but the Gophers upset Iowa and Illinois in the final five games. Gray still has some learning ahead of him, but Minnesota at least has some momentum going into 2012.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Penn State DT Devon Still. The senior has had an All-America-caliber year after being named a finalist for the Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy. But Still wasn't productive in the last two games. He was held without a tackle in last week's 20-14 win over Ohio State, and against Wisconsin, Still had only two tackles and a half-sack as the Badgers rolled up 450 yards and 45 points, both season-highs against Penn State. Still has been battling the flu but denied being held back by injuries in the past two games.

BIG 12

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Baylor. OK, so it's not really that surprising that Baylor defeated Texas Tech, but they did so with star QB Robert Griffin III missing half the game. The Bears defeated the Red Raiders for the first time since 1995. They also set a school record with 66 points in a conference game and posted their eighth victory, which is their highest win total in 20 years.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Texas A&M. The Aggies led archrival Texas by 10 points. And you know what that teams: A&M blew a double-digit lead for the fifth time this season. The defense allowed Texas to mount a final drive for a game-winning field goal. A&M opened the year in the top 10 and talking about a possible national championship. But they finished 6-6 in the regular season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Baylor QB Nick Florence. Griffin was taken out of the game at halftime with a concussion and Baylor leading Texas Tech by just three points. But Florence - who had not thrown at pass all season - stepped in and was 9-of-12 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a score as the Bears went on to a 66-42 victory.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. He threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Texas on Thanksgiving night. Now for the bad news: Tannehill was only 20-of-49 and three of his misfires were interceptions. One of those was returned for a touchdown; the other two set up Texas touchdowns in the Longhorns' 27-25 win.

MOUNTAIN WEST

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Boise State's pass defense. After allowing TCU's Casey Pachall to throw for 473 yards and five touchdowns and San Diego State's Ryan Lindley to pass for 350 yards in the past two weeks, Boise State's injury-riddled secondary came up big in a 36-14 victory over Wyoming. The Broncos allowed just 78 passing yards and one offensive touchdown all day. Wyoming's first touchdown came on a 29-yard interception return by Luke Anderson. The Cowboys' offense didn't score until 5:26 remained in the game.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Wyoming (in the last 37 minutes). Wyoming led Boise State 7-0 and had driven into scoring possession midway through the second quarter when Aaron Tevis pounced on a Brett Smith fumble at the Broncos' 13. The Cowboys never recovered. Boise State scored the tying touchdown on its ensuing drive and took the lead for good at 13-7 on Kellen Moore's 46-yard "Hail Mary" pass to Matt Miller that closed the half. Wyoming didn't even pick up a first down in the third quarter and allowed Boise State to score 36 consecutive points.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Air Force WR Zach Kauth. Although Kauth leads the Falcons in receiving, he had caught just one touchdown pass through the first 11 games. He reached the end zone three times Saturday in the second quarter of a 45-21 victory over Colorado State. Kauth scored on completions of 33, 40 and 50 yards to become the first Air Force player since 1977 to catch three touchdown passes in a game.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Wyoming QB Brett Smith. For perhaps the first time all season, Smith finally resembled a true freshman. Smith went 17-of-25 for just 78 yards against Boise State, with a touchdown pass and an interception. Although he rushed for 37 yards on six carries, he also had a critical fumble. Smith had eight touchdown passes, six touchdown runs and no interceptions in the five games leading up to this one.

PAC-12

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Colorado. The Buffaloes ended a 23-game road losing streak with a 17-14 stunner over Utah. QB Tyler Hansen scored on a 1-yard run and tossed a 1-yard TD pass to help the Buffaloes take a 17-7 lead in the third quarter. They held on to post just their third win of the season and knock the Utes out of Pac-12 South title contention.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Utah's offense. The Utes managed just two touchdowns against a Colorado defense that had allowed at least 42 points in six of its previous seven games. Utah's offensive futility resulted in a costly 17-14 loss. Had Utah defeated Colorado, the Utes would have represented the South Division in the Pac-12 championship game.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: California RB C.J. Anderson. Anderson, a backup, ran for two touchdowns and caught a 74-yard touchdown pass in the Bears' 47-38 victory over Arizona State.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Utah K Coleman Petersen. He missed all three of his field goal attempts in a 17-14 loss to Colorado, including two in the fourth quarter that could have forced overtime. Peterson missed a 26-yard attempt with just under nine minutes remaining in the game, and he also missed a 48-yard try with two seconds remaining.

SEC

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: LSU's rushing offense. The Tigers ran for 286 yards and three TDs in their rout of Arkansas, their second-highest performance in an SEC game. (Considering their best came against Ole Miss, does that even count?) It was Arkansas' second-worst performance against the run in SEC play.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Tennessee. With a bowl bid - and a 26-game game winning streak against Kentucky - on the line, the Vols laid a giant egg, falling 10-7 to a Kentucky team that had routinely been shredded in SEC play. The Vols managed just 276 total yards; UK had surrendered more than 400 yards to both Ole Miss and Vandy.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Kentucky QB Matt Roark. Roark, a senior wide receiver, was pressed into quarterback duty because of injuries to the Wildcats' top two quarterbacks. While he threw for just 15 yards, he rushed for 124 yards on 24 carries to lift UK past Tennessee. Roark hadn't played quarterback since high school. Roark said that when coaches told him last Sunday he would have to play quarterback, "I figured it was going to be maybe one or two series, and maybe some key plays during the game. On Monday, I was like, 'This is for real.' On Tuesday, we were at the meetings, and I was still thinking I was just going to do 'wildcat' plays."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Tennessee QB Tyler Bray. Bray missed five games this season because of a broken collarbone, and he didn't look sharp on Saturday, which was his second game back from the injury. He was just 15-of-38, with two picks and one touchdown pass.

OTHERS

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Florida Atlantic's offense. FAU had scored more than 17 points just twice all season and had scored 35 total in its previous three games. But the Owls broke through for 38 Saturday in a three-point win over UAB, FAU's first victory of the season. FAU had 416 yards; its previous season-high was 334 against North Texas, and the Owls had gained more than 300 once in the previous five games.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: UTEP. The Miners needed one more win for bowl eligibility and were playing at UCF, a seven-loss team that already knew it wasn't going bowling. But UCF built a 31-0 lead before UTEP scored twice in the fourth quarter to make it look closer than it really was.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Western Michigan QB Tyler VanTubbergen. VanTubbergen, a sophomore, had thrown 15 passes in four games this season and 28 passes in 12 games in his career before he was pressed into starting duty Friday because starter Alex Carder was hurt. VanTubbergen responded in a big way, throwing for 252 yards and six TDs as the Broncos blasted Akron 68-19.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Tulsa G.J. Kinne. He didn't play bad; he just didn't come close to the kind of game he needed if the Golden Hurricane were to upset Houston. He threw for just 176 yards, his second-worst performance of the season in a game in which he wasn't hurt; he also tossed two picks. He also ran for 44 yards, but on 13 carries in a 48-16 loss.

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