NATIONAL TOP 25
(Note: This is not a talent ranking of how good these teams are, but rather a look at how they'll perform against their remaining schedules and where they'll be ranked on January 5.)
2. Virginia Tech (2-0, LW: #2)
Last week: Beat Duke 45-0.
This week: vs. Ohio
The Hokies enjoy a tune-up before the meat of the ACC schedule sets in. More impressive than the offensive output against Duke is the fact that the defense pitched a shutout and sparked many of those 45 points – a mark of a champion team.
3. Texas (2-0, LW: #6)
Last week: Beat Ohio State 25-22.
This week: vs. Rice
Nine fourth-quarter points sparked the Horns to victory in the largest inter-conference tilt of the year. Seeing as Oklahoma continues to struggle, Texas just cleared the highest hurdle on their schedule. Even this traditional naysayer has to believe maybe this is finally the year production matches potential in Austin.
4. Louisville (1-0, LW: #5)
Last week: Bye
This week: vs. Oregon State
Don't laugh, but this is the Cardinals' biggest game of the season, especially considering expected rival Pittsburgh has looked weak in losses versus Notre Dame and at Ohio. The Beavers will try to continue their mid-major slaying a week after dispatching with Boise State.
5. Georgia (2-0, LW: #3)
Last week: Beat South Carolina 17-15.
This week: vs. Louisiana-Monroe
The good: This defense held Steve Spurrier's offense in check in Athens, as the Gamecocks netted only 15 points on the day, and just six after halftime.
The bad: Georgia's offense struggled almost as profusely, actually looking comparable to the Central Florida offense the Gamecocks faced a week earlier. These struggles come just a week after D.J. Shockley exploded onto the national consciousness lighting up Boise State. Will the real Georgia offense please stand up?
6. Purdue (2-0, LW: #10)
Last week: Beat Akron 49-24
This week: at Arizona
Perhaps more than Notre Dame and Texas, right here is the team who gained the most with Michigan and Ohio State's losses. The Boilers duck both teams on the schedule, and cynics (i.e. pollsters) now have far less criticism to lob at Purdue about that scheduling quirk.
7. LSU (2-0, LW: #11)
Last week: Beat Arizona State 35-31.
This week: Bye
After a last-second Iowa Hail Mary beat the Tigers in the Capital One Bowl this January, perhaps LSU was due for the last-minute game-winning touchdown drive against Arizona State. Don't forget the defense that, after being marched on all day, finally forced the Sun Devils into a four-and-out to preserve the victory.
9. Ohio State (2-0, LW: #4)
Last week: Lost to Texas, 22-25.
This week: vs. San Diego State
For a Jim Tressel squad to blow a fourth-quarter lead at home was simply unfathomable just a week ago. Now the goals must shift from national championship victory to winning the Big 10 Championship.
10. Notre Dame (2-0, LW: #18)
Last week: Beat Michigan 17-10
This week: vs. Michigan State
They're at #10 right now not so much because I believe in the Irish, but because all the teams below have some serious questions. Isn't it possible that Pitt and Michigan simply aren't as good as advertised, and the national Irish lovefest is a little premature? To be fair, though, the Irish defense looks scary good, especially the front seven. I think eight wins will be about par for the course for this squad.
11. Florida State – At halftime, Florida State 13, The Citadel 10. This Seminole team looks like it's going to struggle with consistency the whole season.
12. Tennessee – A bye week never hurts to prepare for a visit to the Swamp. The season is on the line – any conference or national aspirations go out the window with a loss.
13. Oklahoma – The loss to TCU looks even worse now that Horned Frogs lost to SMU this past weekend. In their last contest, the Sooners didn't pull away from Tulsa until the fourth quarter, trailing the Golden Hurricanes for much of the game. This week's journey to Pasadena should be a good indicator of whether Oklahoma's run of Top 10 seasons can continue.
14. Michigan – As a diehard Michigan fan for 10 years now, this is the first loss I've ever blamed 100% on the personnel while absolving the coaches completely. First of all, the defense isn't as good as it was in the second half – Notre Dame just limited its offense. While the offense misses Braylon Edwards sorely, injuries to tailback Michael Hart and three offensive linemen make quarterback Chad Henne's poor decisions more of a factor than they would be otherwise.
15. California – The Bears displayed much better effort in pasting Washington than against Sacramento State the week earlier. At 21 positions on the field, Cal is a Top 5 contender; it's just the quarterback play that has Berkeley this low.
16. North Carolina State – Last week's bye and this week's visit from the Eastern Kentucky Hilltoppers will give the Wolfpack plenty of time to think about what went wrong against Virginia Tech.
17. Miami – The ‘Canes better not be too hungover from that Florida State loss, because Clemson looks surprisingly solid with consecutive wins over Texas A&M and Maryland. Miami still flat-out dominates Clemson (and much of the rest of the ACC) on talent alone, and I'm expecting this squad to right the ship, starting this week.
18. Arizona State – Tough, tough loss to LSU, as the Tigers scored on a game-winning touchdown drive with just over a minute to play. While Northwestern is not a bad team, the Sun Devils are fully capable of undressing Big 10 schools at home. Just last season, a highly touted Iowa squad got ripped to shreds in Tempe.
19. West Virginia – While Louisville gets much of the Big East love, the Mountaineers' schedule is just as light, with Virginia Tech and Louisville the only Top 25 teams on the slate. A win against Maryland this week is the first step to the dynamite season this squad is fully capable of achieving.
21. Boston College – Think Chestnut Hill won't be rocking for a visit from Florida State this weekend? The Eagles are fortunate to be playing the ‘Noles this early, as Florida State should be a touchdown or two per game stronger in November than they are now.
22. Wisconsin – For the second week in a row, the offense was unstoppable, cracking 60 against Temple this Saturday. Don't look now, but with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa all losing, Wisconsin's path to a Big 10 title just became that much more feasible.
23. Clemson – This team is riding high after its second consecutive escape, a 28-24 win against Maryland. Clemson should only be significantly outmatched in two or three games this season, so if they continue to win the toss-ups, nine or 10 wins is not out of the realm of possibility.
24. Texas Tech – Start paying attention in October, because the out-of-conference schedule is one of the weakest in the country. The Red Raiders would have to rank higher out of the Big 12 South.
25. Alabama – With Arkansas' loss to Vanderbilt, the Tide is clearly the top challenger to LSU in the SEC West. Just one win then, and this team is all but in the SEC Championship Game.
Honorary 26. Ohio and Vanderbilt – This past weekend, these traditional bottom-feeders stunned Pittsburgh and Arkansas, respectively, lending credence to those who say the national landscape is becoming more balanced by the season.
RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY
Goodbye Big Ten. With Purdue the only legit threat still undefeated, your national title aspirations are hanging on by the thinnest of threads. And talk about a week changing everything: this past week's embarrassment, with Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa all biting the dust, comes off a 10-0 opening weekend.
Perhaps those upsets shouldn't come as a total shock, however. As I mentioned last week, the teams at the top this year look to be the most vulnerable in recent memory. Ignoring USC, who hasn't yet been tested this season, the past five BCS national champions of LSU, Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma, and Florida State already sport a combined three losses and two lucky escapes – and we just finished week two.
Quietly smiling amidst all the chaos at the top of the polls has to be USC. If the Trojans were to slip up once this season, even at a late date, a scenario where all the other top teams are so blemished that USC can still sneak into the national title game is looking increasingly likely by the week. For some historical perspective, Oklahoma was the last such team to sneak in the back door, facing LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl after being obliterated 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big XII Championship just a game earlier.
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Last week: Ouch, quite a slow start prognosticating. I'm 0-3 straight up and against the spread, so I guess there's only one way to go...
1. Florida/Tennessee – Seeing as it's the SEC, neither team has faced anybody with a pulse thus far, so it is hard to read into their early results. However, Tennessee's defense was a liability last season, and the offense looked vulnerable this season in their 17-10 escape versus UAB. If the Gators are able to throw up and down the field, watch out. Florida 38, Tennessee 24.
2. Florida State/Boston College – If The Citadel can hang with the Seminoles for a half, you have to figure the Eagles, a sneaky surprise team, could inflict some serious damage at home. With all the roster depletions from injury and off-field problems, these aren't the Seminoles of the 1990s. In an upset, Boston College 27, Florida State 23.
3. Oklahoma/UCLA – Well, it looks like this September visit will be as close to the Rose Bowl as Oklahoma comes. Perhaps the atmosphere will be enough to wake this sleeping giant of a team, because nothing else Bob Stoops has tried so far is working. Oklahoma 31, UCLA 17.
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