- Associated Press - Sunday, September 11, 2011

A game-saving goal-line stand on the Plains. The Ball Coach pulling a fast one between the Hedges. Triple-overtime in Iowa. A touchdown two hours after the game was over at the Coliseum.

And none of that topped Bedlam at the Big House.

For months, the news about college football has been dominated by investigations and scandals, conference shifts and TV contracts.

But on one of the wildest Saturdays in memory, filled with heart-stopping games and can-you-believe-what-he-just-did plays, college football’s troubles faded away _ at least for while.

“The game off the field is just an absolute mess,” longtime college football writer and broadcaster Tony Barnhardt of CBS said Sunday. “But the game on the field is better than it’s ever been and yesterday was classic example.

“One great game after another, one drama after another.”

Supporters of the Bowl Championship Series often say the BCS protects the urgency and excitement of college football’s regular season.

Well, it’s arguable whether letting more than two teams play for a national title in the postseason would hurt or help the regular season, but there is no doubting that the stakes are sky high from week-to-week in major college football.

Most teams are guaranteed only 12 games. The difference between a good season and a disappointing one might be one victory. The difference between a great season and a ho-hum year is two victories.

Beating a rival puts a whole different spin on a season.

The first few days of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament have become among the most exciting on the sports calendar, with wall-to-wall, win-or-go-home games.

Every Saturday of the college football season produces at least a little of that same feeling. What’s going on in the SEC? Did you see that play in the USC game? There’s an upset brewing at Ohio State?

This past Saturday was every as good as March Madness at its best.

As soon as Auburn’s bald eagle mascot flew into the window of a luxury box before the Tigers played Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium, we should have know this was going to be a strange day.

Spirit recovered just fine and made its pregame landing at midfield as usual.

Then the Tigers and Bulldogs put on a dizzying display of big plays _ 912 yards combined and each team returned an interception for a score _ that was ended by a perfectly executed tackle by Auburn defensive back Ryan Smith, who stopped 240-pound quarterback Chris Relf inches from the goal line.

Final: Auburn 41, Mississippi State 34. It was the Tigers’ 17th straight victory, nine by a touchdown or less.

Game of the day, right?

Not if you were in Ames, Iowa, where Steele Jantz of Iowa State will probably never have to pay for a meal _ after he graduates, of course. Jantz threw four touchdown passes and the Cyclones snapped a three-game losing streak against Iowa with a 44-41 triple-OT win.

The Cyclones’ celebration was so intense, they tore apart the temporary Cy-Hawk Trophy.

By the time South Carolina beat Georgia 45-42, with the help of a fake punt called by Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier that sprung 265-pound defensive lineman Melvin Ingram for a 68-yard touchdown run, Auburn-Mississippi could not even claim the title of SEC game of the day.

The first Pac-12 game ever produced the most confusing result of the day. Southern California blocked a last-play field goal attempt by Utah to earn the win. USC’s Torin Harris returned the block for a touchdown. Final: USC 23, Utah 14.

Nope. There was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Trojans because some players from the sideline ran onto the field before Harris scored. Final: USC 17, Utah 14.

Nope. Two hours later the conference announced the TD should count and made the final 23-14. It hardly mattered to the Utes and Trojans, but in Las Vegas, where the line was Trojans by eight, the change had bettors and oddsmakers scrambling.

Speaking of scrambling, Michigan’s Denard Robinson kept getting away from Notre Dame.

In the game that top them all, the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium, in front of the largest crowd to ever attend a college game, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish traded the lead three times in the final 1:12.

Robinson’s touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left gave coach Brady Hoke and Michigan a 35-31 victory and left Notre Dame and coach Brian Kelly 0-2.

“It does not get any better than that,” Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard said Sunday. “You won’t see anything like that again.”

Or at least not until next week.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Washington State beat UNLV 59-7 to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2005.

A 2-0 start and a blowout of lowly UNLV is rarely notable. Unless you’re the Cougars, who have been one of the worst teams in a BCS automatic qualifying conference during Paul Wulff’s first three seasons coaching his alma mater.

Washington State was outscored by an average of 31 points in 2008 and by 26 points per game in 2009, winning a total of three games.

The Cougars went 2-10 last season, but the margin narrowed to 16 points per game.

Making the latest victory even more impressive, the Cougars were playing with backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who threw for career highs of 361 yards and five touchdowns against UNLV playing in place of talented starter Jeff Tuel, who broke his collarbone in Week 1.



_ The Big East followed up an 8-0 first week by going 4-4 in Week 2. Among the lowlights: Louisville losing to FIU, Connecticut falling to Vanderbilt and Syracuse and Pittsburgh playing close games against FCS opponents.

_Western Kentucky has lost 16 straight home games.

_The future of the Big 12 could come down to this: Does Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott believe he has to convince his presidents to bring in Oklahoma because if they don’t another conference will?

_By the way, Kansas beat Northern Illinois 45-42 on a touchdown pass with 9 seconds left Saturday and few outside of Lawrence noticed because of all the other thrillers.



No. 1 Oklahoma goes to Tallahassee to face No. 5 Florida State.

Coach Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles on the rise. A victory against the Sooners would make Florida State serious national title contenders for the first time in about a decade.

Since 1989, the No. 1 team in the AP poll is 12-6 on the road against a top 10 opponent.


AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor contributed to this report.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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