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.)
Quiet week for the Hokies, who must have screamed themselves hoarse for Notre Dame, but all in vain. USC's victory, coupled with Florida State's loss, makes a national title berth increasingly unlikely unless USC or Texas trips up in the upcoming weeks.
2. USC (6-0, Last ranked: 2)
Last week: Beat Notre Dame 31-28
This week: at Washington
Earth to poll voters: your poll is not some three-year moving average of football programs. You are supposed to judge who the best team has been to date, this season. If you think USC has looked like the most dominant team this season, someone needs to revoke your credentials. They are second in my predictive poll because I think they will win out this regular season, but they should not be sniffing the top three (Virginia Tech, Texas, Georgia) in any performance-based poll.
I don't know if everything is indeed bigger in Texas, but when Texas Tech visits this week, the Horns' offensive statistics should certainly live up to the cliché.
With a win over Florida next week, the Bulldogs will take one huge step towards a perfect season, but first on the slate is Arkansas, perhaps the one team that does the least with the most. Presumptive roadblock Alabama certainly looked beatable in their 13-10 escape at Ole Miss. Since their early-season escape past South Carolina, the Dawgs have won every subsequent game by double digits.
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the Notre Dame/USC finish was the Tigers' doozy of a victory over Florida State. After the Auburn contest this week, North Texas and Appalachian State should give the Tigers a chance to bolster their statistics.
Watching football this Saturday must have been a guilty pleasure for the ‘Canes. Miami bolstered its otherwise middling offensive statistics in a 31-point demolition of Temple, and in-state rivals Florida and Florida State both lost heartbreakers.
7. Notre Dame (4-2, Last ranked: 9)
Last week: Lost to USC 31-28
This week: vs. BYU
How will the Irish rebound after dropping the game that should go down as "The Shove" - you read it here first. The contrarian in me says Irish fans should keep in mind that Ty Willingham started 8-0 before being run out of town two-plus seasons later, that Michigan and Purdue were both vastly overrated, and that USC plays nearly every other game surprisingly close. By the way, how can Notre Dame be this good if Willingham is such a poor recruiter? Something does not add up here.
8. Alabama (6-0, Last ranked: 10)
Last week: Beat Ole Miss 13-10
This week: vs. Tennessee
One upset of Florida, and a bunch of narrow victories over inferior teams? I am not sold on the Tide, and I think a lot of the national publicity is wishful thinking on the part of journalists who remember the great Alabama teams of yore. Tennessee, LSU and Auburn in the final five games should set the record straight.
Whoops, there goes the potential national title in a sloppy loss at Virginia. The ‘Noles still control their ACC title destiny, however.
Can you spell pretender? Just about the only similarity all the national title teams of the past 10 years share is a tremendous rush defense. In allowing 330 ground yards each of the past two games, the Bruins hemorrhaged more rushing yards than some past champions have their entire season. Maybe Stanford's running game can get on track in two weeks?
11. Penn State – After Michigan's #3 wide receiver freshman Mario Manningham caught two touchdowns against the Lions, including the game-winner as time expired, think Penn State is searching for a new nickelback?
12. Ohio State – The Buckeyes returned to their form of old, taking a lead with special teams and one huge offensive play before pulling away from Michigan State for good in the fourth quarter. Although the conference looks like a mess right now, when all is said and done, the season finale in Ann Arbor may end up being for the conference championship, just like in the days of Bo and Woody.
13. Oregon – Arizona, California, Washington State and Oregon State remain for the 6-1 Ducks. With a bowl victory, an 11-win season is not at all out of the realm of possibility for Mike Belotti's squad.
14. Florida – Two possibilities for this offense, and the national cognoscenti seem only to recognize one. 1) The spread doesn't work against SEC defenses, Urban Meyer is in above his head, etc. – the Florida offense is inherently flawed... 2) Like just about every coach not named Weis, new schemes, and especially new offenses, take a couple of years to learn. Florida fans should not be so quick to judge Meyer, one of America's most respected (and highly paid) coaches. Ironic, given Gator fans' pleas to fire Zook and delirium after the Meyer hire, this team is talented enough, especially defensively, that the continuity derived from retaining last year's coaching staff might have been enough of a boost that the Gators would be undefeated today.
15. Tennessee – This squad should be rated far higher on talent alone, and all but perhaps 15 teams in the country would have fared no better than 1-2 against the Florida/LSU/Georgia triumvirate. Even with the season finale at Kentucky, Tennessee's road schedule is by far the toughest in the country. The other four road opponents? Florida, LSU, Alabama and Notre Dame.
16. Texas Tech – We still know nothing about this squad who has rolled over five known pasties and squeaked past Nebraska, and I happen to think the Huskers are outside the Top 40 and looking in. However, if the Red Raiders can somehow spring the upset at Texas, the only ranked team on the entire schedule, an undefeated regular season becomes possible, and perhaps likely.
17. West Virginia – Not to take away anything from a gutsy triple overtime come-from-behind victory over Louisville (who the New York Times had playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl... someone's sports department should have a job opening), but unknown freshman running back Steve Slaton's six touchdowns show how completely skewed statistics become in games that go to overtime. Perhaps overtime touchdowns, field goals and yardage could count for some fraction of their normal value when keeping score and compiling statistics, especially because defenses tend to wear down in overtimes. A 17-17 defensive slugfest becomes something like a 52-50 (7 OT) final, and the team's defensive statistics are henceforth worthless for the remainder of the season.
18. Boston College – Florida State's loss at Virginia just widened the window of opportunity for the quietest 6-1 team in the land, but only by a crack. The 'Noles still need to lose again for the Eagles to have a shot at postseason flight, but first things first: a Thursday night thriller at Virginia Tech looms in just over a week.
19. Auburn – Auburn enters its final five games undefeated in the SEC. With #7 LSU, #4 Georgia and #5 Alabama still to come, Tommy Tubberville deserves Coach of the Year honors if the Tigers can keep that unbeaten conference streak going.
20. Wisconsin – In consecutive years in the late-90s, a logjam atop the Big Ten resulted in Wisconsin backing into the conference's Rose Bowl berth on tiebreakers. Wisconsin currently sits in a three-way tie atop the conference. Care to bet against the Badgers?
21. Arizona State – Quarterback Sam Keller's health (hand) is a huge question mark that could go a long way to determining the outcome of this week's visit to Stanford. Dirk Koetter has expressed confidence in his zone running game, especially against Stanford's 3-4 base defense. After sophomore running back Rudy Burgess rolled for a career-high 186 yards against the Card last season, Koetter appears to know what he is talking about.
22. California – Quarterback Joseph Ayoob continues to struggle, but that Oregon State squad, especially the secondary, is one of the most underrated in the country. In a way, conference results like these mean the Pac-10 is undoubtedly a big-time conference – most teams can indeed lose any given Saturday.
23. LouisvilleLouisville – Who knew "Louisville" and "clutch" were officially recognized antonyms? After blowing a 17-point lead in a triple-overtime loss to West Virginia, the Cards no longer hold the cards in the Big East title chase - the conference is West Virginia's to lose.
24. TCU – The Frogs are not in the Top 40 on talent, but do you see them losing again? If not for post-Oklahoma euphoria in TCU's loss to SMU the following week, this squad would probably be ranked in the Top 10 right now. Think TCU wishes it had that game back?
25. Minnesota – Fluky loss on a botched punt for the Gophers, who now host Ohio State and Michigan State in two of the next three weeks. Minnesota historically closes seasons like a Buddy Teevens squad, so these next few weeks shall be rather telling.
RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY
Weekly BCS Projection:
I said West Virginia had a good shot against Louisville, and now the conference is theirs to lose. This week's ahead-of-the-curve call takes us to the Beaver State...
- ACC – Virginia Tech – That win against West Virginia just became a whole lot more impressive.
- Big East – West Virginia – Louisville's loss to South Florida gives the Mountaineers a whole lot of breathing room, too. Probably the safest bet right now, alongside USC.
- Big 10 – Ohio State – Penn State's loss to Michigan now makes this the consensus pick. Wisconsin is coming up fast on the outside, though.
- Big 12 – Texas – The Horns can all but wrap up the Big 12 South with a "W" this Saturday against the Red Raiders.
- Pac-10 – USC – The Trojans should run for about 500 yards on UCLA in the de facto Pac-10 title game in a month or so.
- SEC – Georgia – The Dawgs are in the Top 20 in both total offense and total defense. Watch out, folks.
- At-large – LSU – This is like hedging bets, because LSU still has a really good shot at winning the SEC outright. Beating Alabama is a must for any sort of BCS berth though.
- At-large – Oregon – You read it here first. The Ducks should finish 10-1 if they can get past Cal, and the early computer polls love the Pac-10. Oregon's most impressive win to date might be Fresno State, so a Bulldog "W" over USC would clinch the deal.
After the sheer insanity of last week, it should be a quiet week atop the polls this weekend, as seven of my Top 10 play home contests. Further, the only road trips do not look too treacherous, as Virginia Tech takes on Maryland, USC travels to Washington, and Florida State does battle with Duke.
People are quickly losing attention as the SEC keeps beating itself senseless. Alabama and Georgia are the only unbeatens left, and the Tide should recede soon given that schedule. The SEC is one of the most fundamentally sound conference (great defenses, great depth) in the land, but fundamentals do not equal ratings points.
Just a forewarning… if USC and Texas win out and shut Virginia Tech out of the National Championship, I do not think Mike Eubanks is going to have the server space to post all my whining. The scenario grows increasingly likely by the week, so these two weeks, the Hokies must make statements in nationally televised Thursday night contests.
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Last week: 3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS. Thanks, Reggie Bush
Season: 7-11 ATS, 9-9 SU
1. Texas Tech at Texas – Defense wins championships. Offense wins over eyeballs. A lot of people then will be watching this Longhorn slaughter of a Red Raider team who is known as much for their offensive fireworks as for the defensive fireworks they allow. Texas 48, Texas Tech 27.
2. Auburn at LSU – LSU possesses the most NFL talent of any team in the country, or so I have been told. Maybe it will finally show up, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Bet the under… LSU 24, Auburn 10.
3. Tennessee at Alabama – Tennessee's defensive strength is against the rush, which is Alabama's offensive priority. If Vol running back Gerald Riggs can live up to his massive preseason hype, and Alabama starts feel the pressure that goes with being unbeaten, this one could get ugly. Then again, it's the SEC, so the total points should stay under 40. Tennessee 16, Alabama 13.
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