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.)
With the computer polls all over Texas and USC, this VT team is going to need some sort of miracle to sneak into the title. Either USC loses to UCLA, who somehow does not leap the Hokies in return, or someone in the Big 12 finds a pulse and knocks off Texas. The Hokies' best bet is to root for Alabama and Georgia to each win out, and hope to be paired against one of those programs in the BCS, assuming they still run the table of course.
This was more like the USC of old. Forecasting ahead, Texas has a formidable defensive line, so Matt Leinart will have to be on target. These upcoming weeks are the best practice he can get.
For all the flack USC annually takes for its schedule, Texas faces no ranked opponents other than Ohio State and Texas Tech, who would not be ranked if anyone else in the Big 12 could beat a pretty weak squad (especially defensively).
Just win, baby. Auburn going 1-of-6 on field goals certainly helps the cause, but credit the Tiger defense for producing six red zone stands. That Alabama contest is shaping up to be an old-school knock-them-in-the-mouth slugfest.
Okay, I am now convinced. The Tide lead 6-3 and generate a key forced fumble with the clock running out and Tennessee driving. Look at these potential playoff semifinals: USC vs. Alabama/Georgia and Virginia Tech vs. Texas. Thanks a ton, BCS.
In a season where teams have conquered traditional stumbling blocks (see Texas vs. Oklahoma, Florida State vs. Miami), here comes the biggest mental test for the Bulldogs. Between Florida's offensive struggles and Georgia's defense-first mentally, I think Mark Richt's offense simply needs to shoot for double figures.
A bye week never hurts to recuperate, especially when it comes unexpectedly. Think the ‘Canes will be rooting hard for the ‘Noles against Virginia Tech? Another shot in the ACC title game against their rivals would result. If it comes to fruition, the teams will have played five times in the past three seasons.
8. Notre Dame (5-2, Last ranked: 7)
Last week: Beat Brigham Young 49-23
This week: Bye
The BCS computers hate the Irish, and even with Tennessee in two weeks, the remaining schedule will do the Domers no favors. Qualification for a BCS bid hardly looks to be the automatic proposition some assume it to be.
After allowing nearly 200 yards to Oregon State on the ground, and 330 rushing yards each of the two previous weeks – I think an all-Bootie lineup might manage to crack the century mark running on this squad. (At least, it creates a rather funny mental picture.) Until USC rolls for 500 on the Bruins, Team Hollywood should have a bit of a break against Stanford and the Arizona schools – three of the weaker rushing teams in the conference.
10. Florida State (6-1, Last ranked: 9)
Last week: Beat Duke 55-24
This week: vs. Maryland
Last week's loss to Virginia looks even worse now that the ‘Cavs garnered just five points against North Carolina's normally porous defense. No matter – the ACC title still runs through Tallahassee.
11. Penn State – Penn State/Wisconsin is shaping up to be the de facto Big 10 title game, with Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State on the outside looking in. Again looking ahead, I like the Lions in that match – Wisconsin is a run-first team, and Brian Calhoun is a cutback runner. Those Lion linebackers are the strength of this team, though, and Calhoun and the Badger offense should see their customary lanes plugged.
12. Ohio State – After cruising past the Hoosiers, the Bucks face a fiercer opponent in Minnesota this weekend. If Ted Ginn has indeed regained his form of old after exploding statistically against Indiana, Glen Mason (and plenty of future head coaches) will be pulling his hair out against his old school.
13. Florida – The good thing about stinking up the joint offensively is that it sets the bar mighty low. After Alabama held Tennessee to just three last week, the good news is that Meyer's Gators will not be expected to reach 250 yards of total offense against the Tide. The bad news is that whether the Gators can reach that mark appears to be an even-money proposition.
14. West Virginia – The Mountaineers probably are not inside the Top 40 on talent, but Louisville's visit to Morgantown this weekend marks the only remaining ranked foe on this year's slate. One "W," and West Virginia can all but punch its ticket to the BCS, most likely the Orange Bowl.
15. Boston College – All eyes will be on Blacksburg Thursday for what should turn out to be the Eagles' premier showdown of the year. A win, or a competitive loss, will go a long way towards building a fan base and luring recruits to a beautiful campus and storied football program. You read it here first – this team should be an absolute monster in five seasons.
16. Wisconsin – The Badgers quietly improved to 7-1 in an ugly 31-20 victory over a visiting Purdue squad. The Boilers gained five more first downs than the Badgers, who managed only 280 yards of total offense, and only 63 on the ground against a defense that came into the contest near the bottom of the country in most statistical categories. However, Wisconsin forced five turnovers against Purdue, with an 84-yard pick-six in the third gave the Badgers the lead for good. Great teams simply find a way to win, even in games where they appear outplayed, and the Big Ten still runs through Madison as a result.
17. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders remain virtually unchanged from last week's #16 ranking, even in the face of a stinker against Texas. The blowout loss was already factored into these rankings, and these Raiders should still run the table. Win their bowl game (probably the Holiday Bowl – perhaps combining for 120 points with UCLA?), and the Raiders shall complete their run as one of the least deserving one-loss teams of all-time. In terms of BCS conference strength, the Big 12 and the Big East are battling for the cellar this season, and I would not be so quick to assume the Big East is inferior, per usual.
18. Oregon – There goes Kellen Clemens for the season, and hence the drop for last week's #13. 28-21 against Arizona does not help the ranking either. Hang on against Cal, Washington State and Oregon State, and these Ducks still could automatically qualify for the BCS by cracking the Top Six.
19. California – Stanford fans' natural tendency is to poke fun at the Bears whenever possible, and quarterback Joe Ayoob has certainly taken the verbal jabs this season. However, Ayoob's struggles at Cal are hardly an isolated phenomenon; instead, schools from Eugene (post-Clemens) to Tempe to Tucson all have signal caller issues in the conference of the quarterback.
21. TCU – Two words: Southern Methodist. This squad may well be the second-best squad between the Mississippi and the Rockies, though, considering the weakness of the Big 12.
22. Tennessee – With all the talent in the SEC, one team always takes a disproportionate share of losses against top teams, and this year, the Vols get a turn as the whipping-boy, with losses to Florida, Georgia and now Alabama. Notre Dame comes next week as well – talk about a brutal schedule.
23. Auburn – The five missed field goals are a killer, but Auburn showed last year's success was not an aberration with a spirited effort against LSU. How teams respond to adversity tends to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff - and lots of national eyes will be watching the Tigers' response against Georgia and Alabama, two teams shooting for perfect seasons.
24. Minnesota – Here come the Buckeyes, and an opportunity for the Gophers to knock off the other traditional Big 10 power, after slaying Michigan two weeks earlier. The Michigan win notwithstanding, no team not named Purdue (or Texas, pre-2005) finds more ways to lose more games it should win than these Gophers.
25. Michigan – These cardiac kids have seen their last five games all decided within the last minute, and last week's overtime thriller in Iowa was no exception. The wins over Penn State and Iowa over the last two weeks are impressive enough to bring Big Blue back into the fold – though Northwestern presents a tall challenge this week as well.
RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY
Weekly BCS Projection:
With eight total bids and just six automatics, the Pac-10 looks relatively safe to pick up a second bid, with either a one-loss UCLA (assuming the loss is to USC) or Oregon bringing the conference an extra $15 million. Notre Dame is a possibility for the other at-large slot, though the loser of an SEC Title tilt between undefeated Georgia and Alabama would be mighty hard for the computers (and pollsters) to ignore.
- ACC – Virginia Tech – Boston College this Thursday is another potential landmine. The Hokies need just one loss to knock them from their lofty perch into, say, the Gator Bowl.
- Big East – West Virginia – By contrast, these Mountaineers have plenty of breathing room.
- Big 10 – Penn State – A win against Wisconsin is a must for the Lions, who also traditionally struggle in their season-finale against Michigan State.
- Big 12 – Texas – Can we just give the Horns the next four weeks off and book their tickets for Pasadena right now? If the NCAA is so serious about its athletes' academics, why not just let the kids study for an extra month – no one will come within 20 until USC.
- Pac-10 – USC – Watch out, Washington State – the Trojans are rediscovering their dominant ways of old.
- SEC – Georgia – No Shockley against Florida makes this a shakier pick.
- At-large – Alabama – They have to be paired with Penn State if both squads do make it to the big stage. Just reading "Alabama vs. Penn State" gives me goose bumps.
- At-large – UCLA – I drop Oregon from the eighth slot because of Clemens' season-ending injury, and these Bruins look to be in great position to capitalize.
- Looming: Oregon, Notre Dame, Texas Tech
Like the last, it should again be a quiet week atop the polls this week, as only three of my Top 10 will venture off-campus. UCLA and Texas are each significant favorites against Stanford and Oklahoma State, respectively, though Georgia may have its hands full with Florida.
What an absolutely great year for college football, as traditional powers continue to sit pretty in late-October. From Pasadena to South Bend to Tuscaloosa, the sport is healthier (and a lot more fun) when the big dogs are factors on the national level.
Stirring the pot: College football is a regional sport at its roots – and just about every region of the country thinks it plays the best football in the land. With these passions in mind, here is my to-date ranking of the strength of the six BCS conferences. Feel free to disagree.
2. Big 10
3. Pac 10
5. Big 12
6. Big East
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Last week: 2-1 SU, 1-1-1 ATS. Tennessee/LSU pushes in an
absolutely classic game. The one drawback with covering Stanford Football
so intently is that, ironically, I miss so many college football games in the
Season: 8-12-1 ATS, 11-10 SU.
1. Georgia vs. Florida (at Tallahassee) – Sometimes these games simply defy explanation. Call it a hunch, but Florida has underachieved to date; Georgia has overachieved to date; and Georgia has a huge adjustment to make if Shockley's not ready to go. I also trust Urban Meyer more than Mark Richt in a big game. Florida 13, Georgia 10.
2. Boston College @ Virginia Tech (Thursday) – Blacksburg is near-impossible even Saturday at noon on Jefferson-Pilot, but move the game to national television and move it to night, and that stadium will simply be rocking. The Hokies should block a punt or two, and Marcus Vick should rumble for over 100 on the ground. Virginia Tech 24, Boston College 7.
3. Ohio State @ Minnesota – Minnesota does a lot of things well. Preventing big plays from opposing offenses is simply not one of them, though. They call Ted Ginn "Touchdown Teddy" for a reason. I see two scores for the speedy receiver, and I see these Buckeyes running away. Ohio State 34, Minnesota 17.
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