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.)
Austin can exhale now, as Virginia Tech's loss has all but guaranteed the Horns a trip to Pasadena. With only Kansas, Texas A&M and Colorado separating the Horns from the Rose Bowl, the players and the coaches might want to spend some of these next few weeks getting a head-start on preparing for USC.
3. Virginia Tech (8-1, Last ranked: 1)
Last week: Lost to Miami 27-7
This week: Bye
Oops. In response to the inevitable question, the Hokies are ranked ahead of Miami because these are predictive rankings, and while Miami still has a tough contest with Florida State looming in the ACC title game, the Hokies should win out if they can get over whatever curse has prevented them from playing to their potential in recent Novembers.
4. Miami (7-1, Last ranked: 6)
Last week: Beat Virginia Tech 27-7
This week: at Wake Forest
Another reason Miami is "only" #4 following the most impressive road win any team has registered this season (yes, I watched USC/Notre Dame): both tailback Tyrone Moss and all-around threat Devin Hester are questionable with injuries sustained in the Blacksburg victory.
Eww. The touchdowns came from a fumble return and an interception return, which means the offense did diddly-squat (under 300 yards, 4-of-15 on third downs) against Mississippi State, an SEC bottom-feeder. Good luck against LSU; you'll need it.
6. LSU (7-1, Last ranked: 5)
Last week: Beat Appalachian St. 24-0
This week: at Alabama
Can people stop apologizing for SEC offenses by claiming amazing SEC defenses are the reason for futility? LSU notched only 14 points through three quarters against the mighty Mountaineers, finished the contest out-rushed by Appalachian State, and managed only 27:29 of possession.
The only obstacle between Penn State and the Big 10 title is a Michigan State team that has headed south in a hurry. Don't quite book that BCS berth yet though, as Penn State has a history of losing games it shouldn't against the Spartans.
After the Vols rallied to tie at 21, Brady Quinn simply took over and guided the Irish a 20-point cushion. Two of only four Division I-A independents meet next week when the Midshipmen come calling. The annual Army-Navy contest is the only other all-Independent matchup this season.
The Dawgs almost wrapped up the SEC East, as Vanderbilt took Florida to the ropes in a double-overtime loss. With the Gator victory though, this week's visit from Auburn just became that much more important.
The defense is always happy when their opponent posts a "2" on the scoreboard, and Ohio State's unit has slipped under the radar since the Texas loss. Tressel's 2005 defense is once again one of the finest in the land. The front seven are the strength of the unit, which is bad news against a spread Wildcat attack that leaves itself vulnerable to pass-rushing defensive linemen with wide O-line gaps.
11. Florida – Think the Gators are a little more excited for this week's tilt against their greatest coach ever? South Carolina also raised the ante with its knockout of Tennessee last week.
12. Oregon – Well, Saturday conclusively proved that Oregon's third-string quarterback is light years ahead of Cal's starting signal-caller. Heck, I will rub it in: the younger brother of perhaps the greatest NFL bust of all-time just outperformed Cal's preordained golden boy.
13. UCLA – Raise your hand if you saw that coming (damn you, Kirk Herbstreit). Even when the Bruins were in the Top 10 in the polls, the consensus was that UCLA was perhaps 20th on talent, but a blowout loss… to Arizona? That D-line is one of the worst I have ever seen, no exaggeration.
14. West Virginia – A program in one of the country's richest areas faces a program in one of the country's poorest when Connecticut comes calling this Wednesday. My un-PC thought of the week: to which school's fans do you think the game will mean more? Bonus politically-incorrect thought: think this has any relation to why Stanford football fans are so notoriously tepid?
15. Texas Tech – If you try to spell "BCS" with "Texas Tech", you're left with "BS", which is what it would be if this defensively-challenged Red Raider squad made it to the Big Stage. With their only loss to Texas, however, the Red Raiders could run the table, and… stranger things have happened.
16. Wisconsin – Brian Calhoun must have felt like he was running in a phone booth against that Nittany Lion front seven last week. Wisconsin's strength this year was supposed to be its line. That line, however, looks like a liability, and a great runner like Calhoun can only do so much.
17. Florida State – Eek… losses to Virginia, and now North Carolina State, with a resurgent Florida still to come? Add in a potential ACC title game and the bowl contest, and five losses are not out of the question.
18. Michigan – Will last week's bye or this week's contest against Indiana be a tougher matchup for the Wolverines? While Blue fans dog Lloyd Carr for seemingly everything under the sun, Carr has done a good job of firing his players up every week, and avoiding the embarrassing UC Davis-type loss.
19. TCU – Remember when Colorado State ruled the Mountain West? Sonny Lubick, say hello to Gary Patterson, as your Rams did not even reach the end zone against the Horned Frogs, the new class of the conference.
20. Louisville – Yeah, they choke under pressure. Yeah, the defense is porous. But that offense is darned good. After hanging 42 on Pittsburgh, the Cards have been held under 40 only twice this season, and under 30 only once.
21. Auburn – Tommy Tuberville's season ends with Georgia and Alabama, the two programs head-and-shoulders above the rest of the SEC. We shall see, but my guess is these two weeks put Auburn in the "rest of the SEC" category, and not the "head-and-shoulders above" echelon. It would be foolish to blame Tuberville, though. You try losing two running backs within the first five picks of the NFL Draft. (Pay attention, Pete Carroll.)
22. Fresno State – Dispatch of Boise State this week, and the stage is cleared for the showdown of a lifetime from a Bulldog perspective. Pat Hill's squad prides itself on being the workman-like, disrespected program who shocks the big boys, and no program is flashier or more glamorous than USC. This might be the second-best team in the most populous state in the country, and I suppose a victory over the Trojans could give the Bulldogs claim to the throne.
23. Colorado – Iowa State and Nebraska separate the Buffs from Texas. Colorado may actually be the second-best team Texas faces all season (behind Ohio State); Texas has a history of blowing big games (up until this season); and the Longhorns will have to be looking ahead to USC at that point.
24. Georgia Tech – While the ACC is busy knocking itself out, the Rambling Wreck have quietly won three in a row, and the season-opening "W" in Auburn looks better by the week. Do not get too high on this squad though - Miami and Georgia still remain.
25. Oklahoma – Spare the eulogy for now for the 5-3 Sooners, victors of three straight. These next three games against reasonably talented programs (Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and a Oklahoma State squad that seems to have Bob Stoops' number) are swing games, however; neither 8-3 nor 5-6 finish would surprise me.
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. Automatic bids: (1) USC vs. (2) Texas is all but set in stone, as is (3) West Virginia's spot. (4) Penn State needs just one more win, but if the Lions trip, the Michigan/Ohio State winner looks good. I call (5) Miami over Florida State for the ACC's bid, and (6) LSU to beat both Alabama and Georgia for the SEC crown.
2. At larges: (7) Alabama, (8) Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas Tech and UCLA in that order, with the provision that the Bruins are a shoe-in if they can somehow upset USC. Notre Dame's impressive victory over Tennessee catapults them past Oregon in the pecking order.
ACC – Virginia Tech
Big East – West Virginia
Big 10 – Penn State
Big 12 – Texas
Pac-10 – USC
SEC – LSU
At-large – Alabama
At-large – Notre Dame
The SEC must have rigged the schedule because there is no way this week's slate should be this good. Memphis and Tennessee meet for intrastate bragging rights (who would have thought Memphis would have the better record eight games in?), and the Kentucky-Vanderbilt and Arkansas-Mississippi matches should be competitive affairs that sort out divisional standings. The headliners though, wowwie! Two Top 10 teams meet in LSU and Alabama; two Top 20 teams square off when Auburn visits Georgia; and, oh yeah, Florida visits Steve Spurrier. Almost enough to make you forget about the poor offense, and the dearth of skill position talent in what is supposed to be the country's most fertile recruiting ground. Almost.
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Last week: 2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS. So I blew the Miami pick, but Penn
State and Oregon came through to push my season record to .500. Not that I
would have any additional reason to care how well my picks are doing or
anything… With several weeks remaining, though, there's still plenty of
time to screw this up.
Season: 13-13-1 ATS, 16-11 SU.
1. Alabama at LSU – I have no ties to the SEC, but an honest evaluation of the week's biggest contests led to the first ever lineup of games entirely within one conference. USC-Cal lost its luster with Cal's recent downturn, and Northwestern-Ohio State came close, but the only one of these six teams not in the Top 25 is a South Carolina squad that has won four in a row. Here, I like LSU because that defense will smother Brodie Croyle and the ‘Bama attack. Bet the under folks, LSU 17, Alabama 6.
2. Auburn at Georgia – Auburn is a nice story, but who exactly have they beaten? The most impressive road win to date is Arkansas, and Georgia should jump all over this squad on Saturday. Georgia 34, Auburn 14.
3. Florida at South Carolina – Brain versus brawn? Florida's got the talent; South Carolina's got the mind. The home-field for the Gamecocks will keep it close, but Urban Meyer is starting to adjust to SEC play nicely, so maybe the coaching discrepancy is not all that great. The talent gap is for real though, and at the end of the day, give me "Jessies and Joes" over "Xs and Os". Florida 30, South Carolina 21.
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