RBs Best, Bailey on the rise; Miami and North Carolina slipping

No back in the country gets into the open field like Jahvid Best. Phil Carter/US Presswire

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3. California RB Jahvid Best
Best was the unquestioned star in the 111th edition of the Big Game. The undersized sophomore used his speed to gash Stanford's defense, especially when the Cardinal began to tire late in the contest. Best finished with 201 rushing yards and three second-half scores, leading Cal to a decisive 37-16 victory over its archrival.

4. Syracuse RB Antwon Bailey
Okay, I admit it: I had to look up the name of the player wearing No. 29 for the Orange during the second quarter of its game at Notre Dame. Turns out he's an 18-year-old freshman named Antwon Bailey who is listed as a wide receiver, which was hardly surprising considering he appeared to be the fastest player in a Syracuse jersey in the 24-23 win over the Fighting Irish. The youngster provided Cuse some much-needed explosiveness on the ground, finishing with 126 rushing yards on just 16 carries in the stunning upset of the Irish. That nearly doubles Bailey's season rushing total, which was 66 yards on 13 carries through the first 10 games. Too bad for outgoing coach Greg Robinson he didn't discover Bailey's talents sooner.

5. Northwestern's defense
Congratulation's to coach Pat Fitzgerald and the entire Northwestern football team. Their 27-10 victory over Illinois gives the Wildcats a nine-win season for just the fifth time in school history. Northwestern also is expected to land an invite to a New Year's Day bowl. Quite a turnaround from a year ago this time, when the Illini put a 19-point waxing on the Wildcats and sent them on their second straight extended winter vacation. Fitzgerald's hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a big factor in the team's resurrection. The much-improved unit sacked Illinois QB Juice Williams five times, and Hankwitz's defense is now surrendering 12 fewer points per game (19.3) than the Wildcats allowed in 2007.