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.)
USC turns its attention to three in-state rivals to close the season, and who would have thought three months ago that Cal would be the weakest of the lot? The Trojans should be double-digit favorites against Fresno State and UCLA, too, and neither team looks to have the athletes to stop ‘SC.
You lead 52-0 by halftime; your quarterback breaks the school-record for passing yards; you clinch the division title; and your only remaining competition loses in overtime. Good Saturday.
The defense has yielded over 17 points just once this season (to Miami) while allowing 10 or fewer in five of 10 contests. Win out and a BCS at-large berth is all but guaranteed.
If the Canes can escape past upper-division ACC foes Georgia Tech and Virginia in the Orange Bowl, a far juicier matchup looms on these Canes' horizon: a reeling Florida State and a chance for revenge in the ACC title game.
Midnight struck on this Cinderella story, though the loss might not hurt Alabama's record. Assuming LSU wins out, then the Tigers advance to the SEC championship instead of the Tide. Looming in the SEC title game is a Georgia team that would be a slight favorite over the Tide, so the loss to LSU may have just prevented a loss down the road. At least that's the rationale for keeping them ahead of LSU...
6. LSU (8-1, Last ranked: 6)
Last week: Beat Alabama 16-13 (OT)
This week: At Ole Miss
…That being said, these Tigers will leapfrog the Tide, and maybe even the Canes or Hokies, if they win out at Ole Miss, versus Arkansas and in the SEC title game. The odds of LSU losing somewhere along the line has me keeping them at their six spot, despite the impressive win against Alabama. How much does the blown 21-point lead to Tennessee hurt now?
Strange, but true: Penn State has never advanced to the BCS since its formation now nearly 10 seasons ago. (My, how the time flies...) To reverse history, Joe Paterno and the Lions must come away with a victory in East Lansing, a venue that has not been kind to them in the past, and will host a 5-5 Michigan State team fighting for its postseason life. Still, those speedy Lion linebackers should shut down the spread-based Spartan attack. Look for Penn State to finish with its best season since its 12-0 1994 campaign.
Notre Dame liked the 41-21 margin over Tennessee so much that they came within a point of matching it against Navy. Not that Stanford Stadium is an intimidating road environment, but one advantage the Cardinal do have over the Irish is that Notre Dame will not have played a road game since a 49-28 victory at Purdue on Oct. 1 when they visit Stanford on Nov. 26. In the interim, the Irish will have played five games over a span of 55 days. Guess you can schedule as many home games as you want when you are an Independent.
Once again, Washington State "cougged it". The Ducks are no way no how better than, say, Ohio State, but with no UCLA, California's collapse, and a loss to USC hardly frowned upon, Oregon's schedule is far more friendly. Hello, BCS?
After posting 40 on Illinois, the Buckeyes proved themselves equal-opportunity blowout artists, thrashing the Illini's in-state rival by a similarly lopsided margin. Watch out, Michigan. The Buckeyes have scored at least 40 each of the past four weeks, and your defense is porous.
11. UCLA – That Arizona State game was a classic "sandwich" contest, trapped between an emotionally-draining blowout to Arizona and the clash with cross-town rival #1 USC. Karl Dorrell and the Bruins had every reason to lose that game, yet they pulled away from 28-all and guaranteed themselves a ranked finish with a 45-35 victory.
12. West Virginia – Nothing against this Mountaineer squad, but I am rooting hard for South Florida to win out, including when West Virginia visits in three week, to claim the Big East's automatic BCS berth. What an embarrassment that would be for the conference, and it would force the BCS bigwigs to alter the system.
14. Georgia – The Dawgs still control their SEC destiny, merely needing a victory over downtrodden Kentucky to advance to the SEC title game. After a 7-0 start, though, the Bulldogs have lost their last two in heartbreaking fashion, so the will of this team will be an interesting storyline.
15. Auburn – This might be a better coaching job than last year's perfect season, as Auburn is 8-2 despite losing four first-rounders. Then again, ducking Florida, Tennessee and upstart Vanderbilt in league play, while playing out-of-conference tilts against Ball State and Western Kentucky, could make me look like a genius, too.
16. Michigan – Eight of Michigan's 10 opponents have scored between 14 and 25 points against Big Blue. Meanwhile, the offense has hit between 20 and 35 in six of their last seven. Guess there is something to be said for consistent mediocrity, as Lloyd's boys have won four in a row. A victory over Ohio State and a Penn State loss sends Michigan to its third straight BCS bowl.
17. TCU – The Horned Frogs become the first I-A team to end their season, and in dominant fashion with a 51-3 pasting of UNLV. Entering the season, many thought TCU would go 10-1 on the year, but methinks you would have received pretty good odds betting the loss would come to SMU, not Oklahoma.
18. Louisville – Remember all those feel-good stories about how Rutgers is becoming a national player? I think the national media is just dying for a metro-New York team to crown an upstart – last year it was Connecticut, this year Rutgers, next year NYU at this rate. Louisville 56, Rutgers 5. Take that, East Coast bias.
19. Fresno State – Well, Fresno State has done their part, whooping Boise State Thursday Nov. 10 to set up the monster clash with USC. How much bigger would the game be had the Bulldogs managed to squeak by Oregon, and both teams entered undefeated? Fresno State and UCLA's gaudy schedules are going to send USC's schedule strength through the roof.
20. Wisconsin – The Badgers are the first team in the conference clubhouse, finishing with a 5-3 mark after getting doubled up by Iowa, 20-10. Hawaii and a bowl remain for Wisconsin and Coach Alvarez, who should finish somewhere in the lower half of the final polls.
21. Texas Tech – Oops, as the Red Raiders' offense never got on track in a 24-17 loss to Big 12 bottom feeder Oklahoma State. With Oklahoma and a bowl remaining, an 8-1 start could unravel into a season-ending three-game slide.
22. Florida State – Just a month ago, an undefeated ‘Noles squad was ranked fifth in the nation. Now, the ‘Noles have lost two in a row, three of their last five, and, with Florida, the ACC title game, and a bowl still to go, could easily finish with six losses. Perhaps the ‘Noles used up all their karma in finally knocking off Miami in the season-opener? Keep up the losing ways, and it is only a matter of time until people start to wonder whether it is not a guy 2000 miles to the north, but instead Bobby Bowden who is the legendary coach now over the hill and "out of touch" with modern-day football.
23. South Carolina – Still think Steve Spurrier was overrated? I love the coach for his spunk, always have, always will, and in his honor ("Can't spell Citrus without UT." "FSU – Free Shoes University" etc.): Can't spell "Coach Meyer failed" without "Florida".
24. Oklahoma – Funny how, when the dust settles, the same teams find their way back to the top of the ladder. After a 2-3 start, many opined that the Sooners would not reach a bowl, but Oklahoma has won five straight since that point. For the first time this season, the offense cracked 30 three weeks ago. The Sooners have hit that mark every game since, and look for the streak to continue against Texas Tech's Swiss cheese defense this week.
25. UTEP – Again, not a talent pick, but the Miners stand at 8-1 and have topped 30 in their last five games. The only loss is a 27-20 setback at a solid Memphis squad, and Mike Price's squad should finish in the polls if they win out.
RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY
Weekly BCS Projection:
Once again, two at-large slots and six auto berths are the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Here is how I piece it together.
1. Automatic bids: (1) USC vs. (2) Texas – Rose Bowl. (3) West Virginia still looks golden. (4) Penn State needs to hang on against Michigan State, and the Michigan/Ohio State winner will take the Lions' place with a Spartan victory. (5) Miami looks pretty safe to handle Florida State for the ACC's auto bid, and (6) LSU needs to survive Auburn and Georgia for the SEC crown.
2. At larges: (7) Virginia Tech and (8) Notre Dame are bubble-in; Alabama, Oregon and UCLA are bubble-out. UCLA is all but guaranteed if they beat USC, and otherwise they are definitely headed for the Holiday or Sun Bowl. With a win over Auburn, Alabama may finish in the top six, and if both Alabama and Virginia Tech finish in the top six, Notre Dame is out of luck - even if the Irish are in the top 12.
ACC – Miami
Big East – West Virginia
Big 10 – Penn State
Big 12 – Texas
Pac-10 – USC
SEC – LSU
At-large – Virginia Tech
At-large – Notre Dame
Oh, rivalry week. Not to compare politics and war to sports, one of my largest pet peeves, but I feel like it is far above my poor power to add or detract to college football's most glorious week. I think a guy named Lincoln said that once, and the quote, not the context, seems apt in advance of such an important and emotionally charged week, both for Stanford and on a national scale.
On an unrelated sidenote: Am I the only one dying to meet Keith Jackson this Saturday? I am getting to the game hours early... sleeping on the broadcast level of the press box the night before like I do with Sixth Man... whatever it takes. Whoa Nellie, that voice is simply the voice of televised college football. No exaggeration.
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Last week: 1-2 SU, 0-2-1 ATS. LSU/Alabama pushes, while I
foresaw neither the Auburn nor South Carolina upset. That is one deep
Season: 13-15-2 ATS, 17-13 SU.
1. Ohio State at Michigan – Do not tell my friends back in the 248 (metro Detroit), but I am considering the Buckeyes heavily in this one. Their defense is ferocious; they have displayed more consistently over the course of the season; and Carr trying to out-coach Tressel is like LeBron James' mailbox trying to shadow the King. But the home team is golden as of late in this series. Michigan is coming on strong, and Ohio State is still living off the reputation of their recent national title. I will hedge the bets here… take Ohio State on the points and Michigan straight-up… Michigan 31, Ohio State 30.
2. Alabama at Auburn – I remember late in the 1998 season, when an under-the-radar undefeated Arkansas team faced an undefeated Tennessee squad as hyped as they came. (Turned out the hype was legit – Tee Martin led those Vols to a national title). Anyways, Tennessee won that game in the last minute, and Arkansas never recovered from the heartbreak, blowing their next couple of games over teams they should have beaten on paper. Same SEC, same division, and now, seven years later, I still like the homestanding Tigers, fresh off a huge momentum boost against Georgia, over a Tide team whose dreams suddenly disappeared. Big. Auburn 24, Alabama 6.
3. Fresno State at USC – I am trying to construe a case for Fresno State, but I am having real difficulty. Yeah, Fresno State will be fired up, but so is everyone who faces USC. Southern Cal (by the way their media guide specifically requests that we do not call Southern Cal that, suggesting Troy as an alternative) is at home; their athletes are unquestionably better; and their coaching staff is definitely not any worse. Plus, breaking news: the Trojans are kind of hot as of late. Reggie Bush, hello Heisman. USC 55, Fresno State 24.
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