The Sweep: Week Nine

Through three and a half quarters at Stanford Stadium on Saturday, Daniel had two thoughts in mind: Stanford will poke their way into his Top 25 this week, while Karl Dorrell is a fraud. Eight-plus minutes of meltdown later, one of those ideas faded... Also inside: BCS projections, games of the week, and a revealing comparison of today's rankings and those from Week One.

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.)

1. Virginia Tech (8-0, Last ranked: 1)
Last week: Beat Boston College 30-10 (Thursday)
This week: vs. Miami

Virginia Tech almost got the miracle it needed when Oklahoma State jumped all over Texas early, only for the ‘Horns to come back for a double-digit victory, à la last year.  This week, when USC and Texas are playing unranked Stanford and Baylor, perhaps an impressive win over Miami would earn the Hokies some respect, and desperately needed votes.

2. USC (8-0, Last ranked: 2)
Last week: Beat Washington State 55-13
This week: vs. Stanford

For two weeks straight now, USC is starting to look like the dominant force of the last two years.  Next on the slate is a Stanford team whose hearts were just ripped out in an overtime loss to UCLA.  Uh oh.

3. Texas (8-0, Last ranked: 3)
Last week: Beat Oklahoma State 47-28
This week: at Baylor

The Longhorns' final 19-point margin is deceptively large, as Texas actually trailed the Pokes by an identical 19 points in the second quarter.  The difference?  While Texas twice settled for field goals in the first half, all five second half Longhorn scoring drives went for touchdowns.

4. Alabama (8-0, Last ranked: 5)
Last week: Beat Utah State 35-3
This week: at Mississippi State

Frankly, I am surprised more conferences do not make like the SEC, where programs schedule cupcake opponents like Utah State not as tune-ups at the beginning of the season, but as a weak respite amidst the rigors of conference play.  The smart scheduling will pay off if the Tide can roll past LSU and Auburn to an undefeated 11-0, after a gimme against Mississippi State this week.

5. LSU (6-1, Last ranked: 4)
Last week: Beat North Texas 56-3
This week: vs. Appalachian St.

LSU drops below Alabama because Alabama's signature win, a blowout over Florida, now looks more impressive than the Tigers' marquee wins over Arizona State or Auburn.

6. Miami (6-1, Last ranked: 7)
Last week: Beat North Carolina 34-16
This week: at Virginia Tech

The Canes played an ugly contest against their ACC brethren.  Not only did Miami trail 16-7 at halftime before scoring 27 straight for a 34-16 victory, but the throwback kelly green uniforms need to go back to the 1960s and never return.

7. Notre Dame (5-2, Last ranked: 8)
Last week: Bye
This week: vs. Tennessee

Pittsburgh, Purdue and now Tennessee: three of the Irish's five consensus preseason top-25 opponents are currently unranked.  Further, Michigan and Michigan State are not nearly as good as the "experts" thought when the Irish played them.  The watered-down schedule means that the computers will never rank the Irish high enough for BCS consideration.

8. UCLA (8-0, Last ranked: 9)
Last week: Beat Stanford 30-27 (OT)
This week: at Arizona

For weeks now, the scribes have written that UCLA had a shaky defense, especially on the defensive front, but an offense that scores in bunches and has a propensity for late-game heroics.  I think the overtime victory at The Farm merely cements UCLA's identity.  (Aside: Am I crazy, or is Karl Dorrell one of the worst coaches this side of Dartmouth?  Where were the downfield passes to Marcedes Lewis, the screens to Maurice Drew, the no-huddle - basically anything that worked for the first 52 minutes?  Maybe your team would not need to win contest after contest at the last minute if you playcalled to their strengths the other 59.)

9. Florida State (7-1, Last ranked: 10)
Last week: Beat Maryland 35-27
This week: vs. North Carolina State

Like the Bruins and Canes above them, Florida State was taken to the wire by an inferior opponent.  The Noles needed two touchdowns in the final quarter to escape Maryland, but now a win against lowly North Carolina State this Saturday secures Bobby Bowden and company a spot in the inaugural ACC Championship Game.

10. Georgia (7-1, Last ranked: 6)
Last week: Lost to Florida, 14-13
This week: Bye

Filling in for the injured D.J. Shockley, backup quarterback Joe Tereshinski performed poorly in Georgia's largest contest of the season, completing only 8-of-21 passes for 100 yards and an interception.  So weak was the conventional passing attack that the Bulldogs' only touchdown against the Gators came on a trick pass from running back Thomas Brown to - who else? - Tereshinski.

11. Penn State With UCLA and Texas both losing ground after tighter-that-expected contests against Stanford and Oklahoma State, not to mention Georgia losing outright, the Lions could have been perhaps as high as #4 (ahead of UCLA, behind Virginia Tech, Texas and USC) if not for the last-second loss to Michigan.  Oh yeah, the Big 10 Championship is on the line this Saturday.

12. Florida – Chomp! Chomp! After the Gators grabbed an early two touchdowns and hung on for a 14-13 victory against a Shockley-less Georgia, the SEC East is still in Georgia's control.  If the Bulldogs slip against Auburn or Kentucky, however, Meyer's charges will be waiting in the wings.

13. Ohio State Right here, ladies and gentlemen, is your most underrated team in the country.  All of Ohio State's wins have come by double figures.  Meanwhile, the losses to Texas and Penn State, two mighty fine programs by the way, were both heartbreakers that could have easily gone the other way.  A couple of bad bounces have the Buckeyes now looking to the Outback instead of the Rose.

14. Wisconsin The only two Big 10 teams who control their title destiny meet in Happy Valley this Saturday.  Under Barry Alvarez, the Badgers have a history of peaking in games that secure BCS (well, Rose Bowls in the good ‘ole days) berths, and Wisconsin should be stoked for this Saturday, in Alvarez' final year as head coach.

15. West Virginia The South Florida contest for the 22nd was cancelled due to Hurricane Wilma, so the Mountaineers will have 18 days between their last action against Louisville and a visit from Connecticut this Wednesday.  Wednesday?!  Some programs will do anything for television.

16. Texas Tech Think the Red Raiders were bummed after their loss to Texas?  The explosive offense could put only six on the board in the first three quarters before piling on 22 in the fourth in a 28-0 victory over Baylor, who has played surprisingly tough this year.

17. Oregon The three-point win against Fresno State quietly grows increasingly impressive by the week.  Both Oregon and Cal come off byes into this week's tilt, which has completely lost its luster due to USC's success.  Neither team has a realistic shot at the Pac-10 title, and somehow "Showdown for San Diego" (site of the Holiday Bowl) does not inspire visions of grandeur.

18. California Great programs are defined by their resiliency in the face of adversity, and continued success year-in and year-out.  Both will be on the line for the Bears in Eugene this week.

19. Michigan – The 17 total points and zero second-half points allowed were both season bests for the Wolverines against a Northwestern offense that had put up PlayStation numbers entering the contest.  Unfortunately for the Blue, this season just furthers a trend of being unprepared in September and early October, only to meld with the national title out of reach around Halloween-time.

20. Louisville – Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and UConn remain for the 5-2 Cardinals, so the question arises: after choking against South Florida and West Virginia, just where will Coach Petrino's squad trip up again?

21. TCU The Horned Frogs seem to have a pattern of letting off the gas at precisely the wrong times.  Beat Oklahoma?  Okay, lose to SMU the week following.  Re-enter the Top 25?  Need a late interception to preserve a 23-20 win over 3-6 San Diego State.

22. Auburn – The Tigers cruised against Ole Miss this week, and can relax against Kentucky next week, but what a close to their season: at #4 Georgia and vs. #5 Alabama.  Georgia Tech is the only non-SEC school to play two current Top Five teams this season, let alone in back-to-back weeks.

23. Fresno State – A three-point loss to Oregon is all that separates Pat Hill's Bulldogs from a perfect 7-0 and likely Top 10 ranking.  For now though, Boise State and San Jose State is all that separates the squad from a monster tilt with USC.

24. Colorado The Buffs posted one of their nicest wins in Manhattan since Rashaan Salaam captured the 1994 Heisman.  Well, it was a different Manhattan, but the 6-2 Buffaloes will still take the 23-20 victory at Kansas State.  Colorado is perhaps 45th on talent, but is in the poll because of their weak Big 12 North schedule, where only unranked Missouri, Iowa State and Nebraska remain.

25. Boston College – Yes, they were blown out at Virginia Tech, but I think at least 110 other I-A teams would too.  Besides, no one else exactly screams for the slot.  If only Stanford had held on...

RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY

Weekly BCS Projection:

Eight berths, less the six conference champions, leaves two at-large slots, and here is how I see them shaking out...

1. If either UCLA or Oregon finishes with one loss, they should earn the Pac-10 another berth.  If both squads finish 10-1, UCLA should get the nod, provided the loss is a reasonably close affair against USC.

2. The second berth almost surely comes from the SEC, from whichever of Alabama, LSU and Georgia does not win the SEC outright.  The three squads all sit today in the Top 10, and none have more than a single loss.

ACC – Virginia Tech
Big East – West Virginia
Big 10 – Penn State
Big 12 – Texas
Pac-10 – USC
SEC – LSU
At-large – Alabama
At-large – UCLA
Looming: Oregon, Notre Dame, Texas Tech

Perhaps when we reflect upon the season, this week will go down as the "Week of the Scare." (Attention: ESPN - No stealing my monikers any more.  After taking credit for "The Shove" for the Notre Dame/USC contest, I have had it up to here with you, Worldwide Leader.)  Top 10 squads Texas, UCLA, Miami and Florida State all faced far tougher fights than they had bargained for, and fellow Top 10 member Georgia lost outright.  In fact, just about only top team that was not in a fight for its life was USC, which is ironic considering the Trojans' propensity for close contests this season.

Now that we are two months into the season, the time is ripe to revisit our initial rankings, and take a glance at the three teams that were the most overrated, underrated, and spot-on.  After all, my mother always said to learn from my mistakes.

Overrated
1. North Carolina State

Week 1: #16
Today: Unranked, 3-4
That defense has turned out not nearly as good as advertised.

2. Oklahoma
Week 1: #9
Today: Unranked, 5-3
I thought the Sooners had the talent to merely restock the offensive cupboard.

3. Louisville
Week 1: #5
Today: #20, 5-2
I do not feel bad about this pick one bit.  Raise your hand if you saw a double-digit loss to South Florida coming.

  • Purdue and Tennessee round out the Top Five.

Underrated
1. Alabama
Week 1: Unranked
Today: #4, 8-0
Defensive-oriented squads tend to be undervalued, but who would have thought Brodie Croyle would be the odds-on favorite for SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors?

2. Penn State
Week 1: Unranked
Today: #11, 8-1, in the Big 10's driver's seat
The 4th & 15 conversion and subsequent victory over Northwestern has seemingly sparked these Lions, who finally have the skill position speed to match what has been a fundamentally solid squad for the past few years.

3. Notre Dame
Week 1: #18
Today: #7, 5-2
I am still not completely sold on the Irish, to be honest, but what more could one have asked for from this year's squad? The losses to Michigan State and USC both came down to the final play, and victories over the likes of Michigan have been impressive.

Spot-on
1. Michigan
Week 1: #7
Today: #19, 6-3
Yes, the initial ranking is higher than today's, but Michigan may well climb back to #7 before the season is done, and the polls had Big Blue at #4 at the time.  More than a number, though, how about this Week One quote?  "The Wolverines should probably be lower… Big Blue is overrated and overhyped because of a plethora of skill position talent relative to the talent on defense."

2. Virginia Tech
Week 1: #2
Today: #1, 8-0
"Virginia Tech is the defending ACC champion and has all the trappings of a national title-caliber team: great defense, line play and a playmaker on offense."  Enough said.

3. West Virginia
Week 1: #20
Today: #15, 6-1
Angry fans from the other 49 states will cry foul when their squad is denied a BCS berth while the Mountaineers gain the automatic.  Ah, the Big East.

BIG GAMES ON TAP

Last week: 3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS. Last week's predictions: Virginia Tech over Boston College 24-7, Ohio State over Minnesota 34-17, and Florida over Georgia 13-10.  Last week's actual: Virginia Tech 30-10, Ohio State 45-31, and Florida 14-10.  Print this out and frame it.
Season: 11-12-1 ATS, 14-10 SU.

1. Wisconsin at Penn State – As I posited last week, Wisconsin's offense centers upon cutback runner Brian Calhoun, and Penn State's defensive strength is the speed of their linebacking corps.  Plus, Joe Pa is at home, and this season just has that feeling.  Penn State 24, Wisconsin 14.

2. Miami at Virginia Tech – Home field is such a big factor for both these defense-first squads.  I like Tech at home, especially because Miami lacks a Marcus Vick-like playmaker to move the ball on the Hokie D.  Virginia Tech 28, Miami 17.

3. Cal at Oregon – Quarterback mistakes should abound for both squads, with Cal starter Nate Longshore and Oregon starter Kellen Clemens now both out for the season.  Marshawn Lynch is overrated, Terrence Whitehead underrated.  Autzen is the toughest stadium west of the Rockies, but above all else, Cal is just cold – last seen losing to an Oregon State squad that lost Saturday to Arizona.  Oregon's offense should carry the day.  Oregon 42, Cal 24.


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