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National College Football

Easy to be enthused about passionate play

By Mark Blaudschun
October 24, 2011

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Michigan State’s final-play 37-31 win over Wisconsin Saturday would have been enough, but there was more, much more, which is always the way in college football’s regular-season passion play. That seems to get better each season, despite the nonsense from those higher-ups whose passion is not the love of the game but love of the bottom line.

A wild fourth-quarter comeback by No. 4 Wisconsin seemed to indicate overtime was in the works in East Lansing, Mich.

But Michigan State’s Keith Nichol caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins on the last play of the game; the ball bounced off the facemask of the Spartans’ B.J. Cunningham to Nichol, who caught it just outside the end zone and struggled for the goal line, battling two Badgers and just breaking the plane.

“We knew we had a chance,’’ Cousins said. “There’s always a chance.’’

No. 15 Michigan State had improved to 6-1, and Wisconsin (6-1) had been handed its first loss, its Bowl Championship Series title game dreams fading fast.

Then there was Texas Tech beating Oklahoma, 41-38.

The No. 3 Sooners, playing at home, fell behind early and then staged a comeback.

That is expected at Owen Field in Norman, where the Sooners had won 39 straight games and where they had compiled a 75-2 record during coach Bob Stoops’s 13-year reign.

But it wasn’t enough, as Texas Tech’s Seth Doege threw for 441 yards and connected with Alex Torres on three of his four touchdown passes. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones passed for 412 yards and 5 TDs, but couldn’t pull his team through.

With Wisconsin’s loss, the Big Ten is virtually out of the BCS title game matchup. The conference has no more unbeaten teams, and none of the once-beatens has enough juice to get to New Orleans Jan. 8, barring some major upsets.

A Rose Bowl berth is not a bad consolation prize, though.

Oklahoma is also in trouble for any title shot.

The Sooners still can jump into the mix if they beat cross-state rival Oklahoma State (unbeaten after a rout against Missouri), but they will need some help. And they had better pay attention to business next week when they travel to unbeaten Kansas State.

One of these two?

As the above two upsets show, there aren’t many certainties in college football, but the odds are in favor of either Louisiana State or Alabama being in the BCS title game.

They might even both be there in a rematch, although that’s unlikely.

No. 1 LSU was a 45-10 winner over defending national champion Auburn, and No. 2 Alabama was a 37-6 victor over Tennessee as they begin to prepare for their meeting in Tuscaloosa in two weeks.

The Southeastern Conference is the best in college football, and has been for the past five years, producing the national champion each time.

As for the SEC’s possible opponent in the BCS title game, keep your eye on Stanford, which, led by Heisman Trophy front-runner Andrew Luck, rolled over what everyone thought was a pretty good Washington team, 65-21, to go to 7-0.

The Cardinal still must deal with a dangerous University of Southern California - which is now treating its rivalry games like bowl games, since the Trojans are on NCAA probation and not eligible for either the Pac-12’s first championship game or a bowl. USC knocked off Notre Dame, 31-17, Saturday night and would love nothing better than to upset Stanford, as it did a couple of years ago.

If the Cardinal can squeeze past that game, a showdown with Oregon looms next month. But that game will be in Palo Alto, where Stanford seldom loses. Stanford has the nation’s longest FBS winning streak at 15 games.

A more intriguing BCS title game contender might be 8-0 Clemson, which outslugged North Carolina, 59-38.

This team may be a genuine national championship contender, something that hasn’t happened at Clemson since 1981. But we are still waiting for a Clemson moment, when it loses a game it shouldn’t.

With QB Tajh Boyd doing his magic act each week, however, it might be a while before that happens. Maybe even through the Atlantic Coast Conference title game (a rematch against Virginia Tech?) and beyond.

No problem, Houston

Houston may be the best team no one has really heard about this season. Led by sixth-year (medical redshirt) quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars are also unbeaten following a 63-28 win over Marshall. And Keenum, who had six touchdown passes and threw for 376 yards, is now the FBS career leader in total offense . . . Former Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis set two NCAA records for consecutive completions in East Carolina’s 38-35 win over Navy. Davis completed his first 26 passes, breaking the record of 23 straight in a game. Having entered the contest having completed his last 10 passes, his total of 36 straight shattered the mark of 26.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.