Which Undefeated Team Can Finish 12-0?
It's easy to go 12-0 when you have a schedule that was preseason-ranked No. 114 by Phil Steele—in other words, only six other teams have an easier schedule than Houston. Barring any injury to quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars should coast to an undefeated season but not go BCS bowling because of their strength of schedule. I'm a Cinderella sympathizer, but with a schedule as fluffy as Houston's, the pollsters aren't going to give them much love with reason. Still, a 12-0 season with a healthy Keenum is a lock.
The Broncos got past Georgia and now have a pretty breezy schedule. TCU isn't the TCU of the last few years and neither is a Kaepernick-less Nevada. Boise State's only two speed bumps are both road games—at Fresno State and at San Diego State. Fresno State might be a challenge but Ole Miss beat the Bulldogs in Fresno, so it looks like the game against the Aztecs is their only question mark. 12-0 looks like an almost-lock.
The Badgers look destined. They've annihilated everyone in their path including a highly-touted Nebraska team but they've done it mostly in the confines of Camp Randall Stadium (their game against Northern Illinois was played in Chicago). Wisconsin hasn't been really tested by a big boy at a big boy stadium. They've got four road games but three of them are at Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois. They look like they should handle all of them, but it's hard to go "all in" on them when they've had lapses of focus in the past two years. Still, quarterback Russell Wilson should give them the perfect season.
The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship to break a team's heart anymore which means the Sooners have one less game to worry about. There are four other teams in their conference that are undefeated but either Texas or Oklahoma will have a loss after this week's Red River Rivalry. The one game that should be a big concern is at Baylor—the Sooners' pass defense is not a big strength (ranked No. 59) and if Robert Griffin III is healthy, this may be the Sooners' first taste of a loss. Still, they have the look of a 12-0 team.
The Cardinal keep on winning and, inexplicably, keep on sliding in the polls every week. Maybe the pollsters forgot there is some good football played in the West, or maybe they're just too busy drooling over the SEC. Fortunately for the Cardinal, they've got quite the nice championship schedule this year and could be playing for the Pac-12 crown if they can get past two teams—at USC and Oregon. The Trojans look explosive in offense and implosive on defense while Stanford looks better on both sides of the ball. Oregon at Stanford is the game that defines their seasons. The Cardinal are in a good position to take care of business not because they have home field advantage over Oregon, but because they don't have to travel to Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.
The Tide do not appear to have much of a threat from five of their next seven opponents. The Mississippi schools are so-so, the Tennessee schools are so-so, Georgia Southern is out of their minds for playing the Tide no matter how much dough they'll be making which leaves us with two teams—LSU and Auburn. LSU looks more balanced than Alabama. The Tide's defense is stingy and one of the best in the country, but their offense—specifically the quarterback play—is a question mark. Trent Richardson is a beast but he may encounter a different defense than he has been accustomed to recently. Auburn isn't nearly the same team as last year's, but Auburn is better than we thought they were going to be. Never overlook a rivalry game, especially the Iron Bowl. Never.
The Longhorns don't have a settled quarterback situation and that spells trouble—I'm not a fan of rotating quarterbacks because basically that means no one has displayed enough leadership skills or consistency to be named "that guy." I've got Texas losing this weekend because Sooners quarterback Landry Jones is a field general who has full command of his team. But if there is an upset, the Longhorns face Oklahoma State the following week and I just can't see them winning both of those games. Of course, if they beat the Pokes, then move them up near the top.
How good would the Cowboys be if they had a good defense? Giving up 259 passing yards and 169 rushing yards per game is not going to beat a team that has a balanced offense. Brandon Weeden will certainly put points up on the board—he's one of the two most prolific passers in the country—but defense wins championships and the Cowboys play too many teams that can both run and pass the ball well. If Baylor doesn't beat them, Oklahoma will by chewing up the clock with a strong running game that keeps the Cowboys high-flying offense off the field.
We thought Virginia Tech and South Carolina would be the Tigers' biggest roadblocks. The Hokies rolled over in Blacksburg and got steamrolled 23-3 while South Carolina—Clemson's last opponent in the regular season—looks suspect as long as Stephen Garcia is at quarterback (Note- Connor Shaw has been named the starting quarterback this week). Right now, Georgia Tech looks like the biggest threat to Clemson besides, well, Clemson. The Tigers are one of those teams that tend to under-achieve and the fact that they haven't been in this position before gives reason to pause. If they run the tables with only South Carolina remaining, I give them a 50-50 shot at going 12-0.
The Tigers impressed everyone in September but they still have a nightmare of a schedule—Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas await. Can they get through this schedule without a loss? Probably not. I picked LSU to play for the BCS Championship and even with one loss, I still think they deserve a shot because, well, they look like champions. With that being said, they're coached by Les Miles, aka The Hat, so who knows what will happen?
The Illini are 5-0 and coincidentally, played all five of those games at home. Two of their games were cupcakes but the other three, at least according to the final scores, were struggles. In other words, the Illini find a way to win the game but keep it close to the vest. Their remaining schedule isn't that scary—Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wisconsin looks like the biggest threat with Michigan a close second—the Illini lost to Michigan 67-65 (OT) last year and this year's contest will be a revenge game for the Illini. Wisconsin may sleep on the Illini—this has "trap game" written all over it—before finishing out their regular season hosting Penn State. They've got a decent shot at going 12-0 before the conference championship game if they pass some road tests beforehand. But that's a big if.
I expected the Wolverines to be much better this year due to Brady Hoke's great defensive mind. So far, the Wolverines—on paper, at least—have played better defense but who exactly have they played? Notre Dame is the one big win on their resume and honestly, if it weren't for the five turnovers committed by the Irish, the Wolverines would have probably lost that game. So, who's going to have the best shot at beating Michigan? The Spartans may be the first to burst their bubble because it's a road game for Michigan and the Wolverines will have only had Northwestern as their first test outside the Big House.
The Red Raiders are undefeated but let's take a look at who they've played: Texas State, New Mexico, Nevada and Kansas. The last three teams they played have a combined 3-10 record. The next three teams the Red Raiders face—Texas A&M, Kansas State and Oklahoma—have a combined 10-2 record, with two of those teams undefeated. October will not be a kind month for Texas Tech.
The Wildcats are winning due to some outstanding defense against three poor-to-average teams (Eastern Kentucky, Kent State and Miami) and one good team (Baylor). They have one heck of a coach in Bill Snyder and have five Big 12 home games this year. So far, so good. But I just can't see them getting through this gauntlet—Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and at Texas—without a loss. The fact that they are flying somewhat under the radar should cause some teams to underestimate them, but this week they play a good Missouri team which should give us—and the rest of the Big 12—an accurate picture of how good Kansas State really is.
While Clemson's schedule is mostly frontloaded, Georgia Tech's is the exact opposite—the Yellow Jackets have Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia starting in mid-October. That's a lot of angst, especially since Georgia has improved from their 0-2 start to 3-2. The good news is that Paul Johnson has Tech's offense humming with both the pass and the run, but the bad news is that coach Frank Beamer will probably have his Hokies back into championship form by November, if not sooner. I don't think they'll go 12-0 because they haven't played a ranked team (and probably won't until late October) and hence, their current 5-0 record is probably inflated.
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