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The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
Breaking down the 4-0ers. They're not all ranked – Minnesota received just one vote in the latest Coaches Poll and didn't get any love in the AP, while Maryland is technically 32nd in the Coaches and 28th in the AP – but they're all two wins away from going bowling. This is the 4-0 Club, and while others will soon get in, at the moment, it's exclusive. Where do they all stand? How did they get here and what's next? …
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … The Gophers beat UNLV, New Mexico State and Western Illinois, and, unfortunately, the only thing America notices was head coach Jerry Kill suffering a seizure at halftime of the win over the Leathernecks. However, he returned the next week and the team came up with one of its best performances of his era, running all over a good San Jose State team 43-24.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … This could be a sneaky-fun team in the Big Ten race; it seems to have found a groove. It's winning games on big plays from the defense and special teams, and the offense is starting to do what Kill has been working for over the past few seasons. There will soon be a quarterback issue when Philip Nelson (good pass, solid run) is back and healthy after Mitch Leidner (terrific run, mediocre pass) was fantastic against the Spartans. If the Gophers are for real, they handle Iowa at home this week before going on the road to face Michigan and Northwestern. There isn't a layup in Big Ten play, but they're good enough to win at least two more games, upset someone, and get to a minor bowl.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … The Terps might be finally starting to put it together under Randy Edsall, one year before going off to the Big Ten. After winning four games or fewer in three of the past four season, a 4-0 start is big, especially with a dominant shutout of West Virginia last week. FIU and Connecticut have yet to win a game, and Old Dominion is trying to figure out its way in the FCS world, but Edsall has put together a terrific defense and an efficient offense that, shock of shocks, unlike the second half of last year, works better now that it has a healthy quarterback.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … Reality might come to breakfast next week against Florida State, but the schedule isn't too awful outside of a home date with Clemson – if you're waiting for Clemson to go Clemsoning, this might be it – and road games at Virginia Tech and NC State, but with the way the defense is playing, a second nine-win season in the last four is on the table.
6. Texas Tech
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … It's swooning time over one Mr. Kingsbury. All the women love them some Kliff Kingsbury, and the men are going doe-eyed, too, as he's doing everything the program could've dreamed of and more. He's the guy after the guy who took over for Mike Leach, but it's more. He's good-looking, charismatic, and he's bringing the fun passing attack to a program that seems like it's on the rise again. The Red Raiders gave the fan base some fun with Texas wins over SMU, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State, but beating TCU 20-10 was a really, really big deal to kickstart the era.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … It's not like the Tommy Tuberville era was that bad, but Kingsbury is a Red Raider legend who's part of the family. With relative layups ahead against Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, 7-0 is likely unless Texas Tech goes Clemsoning – sorry, I sort of like the term – over the next few weeks before going to Oklahoma. The finishing kick is brutal, but a ten-win season – at least with a bowl victory – isn't a crazy dream.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … Here's the most impressive part about all of this – a few key players have been banged up. QB Kain Colter is back, but he went down right away against Cal with an "upper body injury," and star RB Venric Mark was knocked out of the opener, too. Even so, the offense has been efficient and very, very effective, but the last two cupcake games against Western Michigan and Maine were a bit sluggish. After starting out on the road against Cal, and coming back and ripping up Syracuse, it's been a strong start.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … A third 5-0 start in four years and fourth in six seasons would be very, very special with Ohio State coming to Evanston in two weeks, but the last 6-0 start came in 1962. The team that stopped the streak? Wisconsin. The team on the schedule for the sixth game this year? Wisconsin. No Big Ten team has it tougher, but Cats are playing well enough to potentially come up with a split against the Badgers and Buckeyes, and battle hard on the road at Nebraska. Michigan and Michigan State are home games. They're good enough to beat Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois and upset their way to nine wins in the regular season and get to ten for the second year in a row after the bowls.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … Louisville 27, Kentucky 13. Forgetting that the Cardinals had the game in the bag almost the whole way, and dismissing that UK came up with its lone touchdown late, the naysayers are going to jump all over a 14-point win over the SEC's worst team as the reason why a BCS championship shot shouldn't be in the future. Blowing away Ohio, Eastern Kentucky and FIU won't get it done, however, UofL did exactly what it was supposed to and exactly what it needs to. The team has to make America want to see it play in the biggest game.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … With Cincinnati hobbling at quarterback, South Florida and UConn still searching for their first wins, and the Conference USA wing of the AAC, well, is from Conference USA, it's Rutgers or bust in a few weeks. The Cardinals have to keep obliterating everything in their path, and in terms of the BCS championship, a nine-point win might as well be a loss. The way Teddy Bridgewater is working the offense, and with the defense allowing a mere 27 points in four games, outside of the Rutgers battle, and maybe the date with UCF, it's going to take a serious braincramp to not go 12-0.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … Yeeeeeeuuucckkk. Central Michigan is awful – the 59-9 win is now dismissed – but beating Notre Dame with a strong offensive performance made it seem like this might be a special season. And then came the close call against Akron, and then a winless UConn buzzed the tower last week before collapsing in a 24-21 loss. It's possible the Wolverines are just a wee bit unfocused, but last year's team didn't go 4-0. There have been signs of greatness, but they've been hidden inside a whole bunch of inconsistencies.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … Devin Gardner has to have a more confident game. There are times when everything is clicking and he looks the part, and other times the offense just isn't moving. The defense can pick up the slack, especially against the run, but after the close calls against two bad teams, Minnesota, at Penn State and Indiana are dangerous landmines before going to Michigan State. With road games at East Lansing and Northwestern, along with the finale against Ohio State, there's too much trouble, and too many issues, to win the Big Ten title. However, 10-2 isn't too much to ask for.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … This might have been the best team in college football over the first four games. The defense might not be quite up to its normal snuff, but the athletes and talent are tremendous – they play when they have to. Meanwhile, the offense has been nothing short of terrific. Zach Mettenberger is playing like a franchise NFL quarterback, and the return of Jeremy Hill has been a big help for an already good ground game. The Tigers will turn it on when needed, and they have that extra gear. The best appears to be yet to come. However …
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … it could all stall at Georgia this week. With road games at Ole Miss and Alabama, and home dates with Florida and Texas A&M, there isn't anything easy about what the Tigers have to do. Even so, the 2011 team dealt with worse in the regular season and almost pulled off the national title. This team, at least offensively, is better. Even with the brutal schedule, anything less than an SEC championship will be a major disappointment.
1. Ohio State
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here? … There still might be several question marks – can the still-emerging defensive front hold up against anyone with any power? – but the Buckeyes have played the part of the No. 2 team very, very well. The big scare came after losing Braxton Miller to a minor knee injury, but Kenny Guiton more than picked up the slack. However, OSU blew way four miserable defenses to get everyone into a lather, but life is about to become much, much harder in Big Ten play.
And you may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go? … It's finally time for a test with Wisconsin this week and a trip to Northwestern to follow. Win those, and it's smooth sailing until the regular season finale at Michigan. Fortunately, it's been four games of tuning up and prepping, and the team did just about everything right. The Buckeyes haven't faced a running game, and the offense hasn't played a defense with a pulse, but one good win over the Badgers will solidify the No. 2 spot for the rest of the year, as long as they keep winning.