The Sweep: Week Eight

This past weekend was probably the most exciting in 2006 for college football, with several heart-stopping fantastic finishes. But what were the impacts once the dust settled? Daniel delivers his newest Top 25, which deliberately looks different from the polls. Three new teams enter this week, one of them out of left field. Also a shake-up in the Heisman race after a Pac-10 collapse in South Bend.

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 9.)

1. Ohio State (8-0, Last: 1)
Last: Won vs. Indiana, 44-3
Next: vs. Minnesota

Of note: Jim Tressel calls a wide-receiver pass for a touchdown up 20-plus in the third quarter.  Neither Ohio State nor Michigan have a winning team on the schedule – save for each other.  My early line: Ohio State by 5.5.

2. USC (6-0, Last: 2)
Last: Won vs. Arizona State, 28-21 (October 16)
Next: at Oregon State

I guess the increased prestige of the Arizona State, Washington and Washington State wins and the reduced likelihood of losing to Cal and Oregon work in the Trojans' favor, but it is really my fear of being a Michigan homer that is keeping USC in the two-slot.  That, and my reluctance to write a sentence analyzing why the Trojans have slipped without a gratuitous Matt Leinart joke.  I am here all night, folks – remember to tip your waiters.

3. Michigan (8-0, Last: 3)
Last: Won vs. Iowa, 20-6
Next: vs. Northwestern

This game and the Wisconsin game are two the Wolverines would lose last year.  The major difference?  The promotion of defensive coordinator Ron English.  English is young, a proven winner, schematically aggressive, played in the area (at Cal), African-American (arguably helps with recruits)...  And as much as I would hate to lose him at Michigan, if Stanford makes a coaching change in the next few years, this guy better be on the short list.

4. West Virginia (7-0, Last: 5)
Last: Won at Connecticut, 37-11 (October 20)
Next: at Louisville (November 2)

The leapfrogging of Louisville comes after yet another uninspiring performance from the Cardinals – I do not think they will make it past both Rutgers and these Mountaineers unscathed.  West Virginia will be on the outside of the BCS title game looking in, though, unless USC (and Texas, and a whole bunch of ACC teams) lose in a hurry.

5. Louisville (7-0, Last: 4)
Last: Won at Syracuse, 28-13
Next: vs. West Virginia (November 2)

Thank goodness they have the 12 days to prepare for West Virginia, because the Mountaineers have played about two touchdowns better than the Cardinals against common opponents.  Neither defense looks to be able to hold a candle to the opposing offense, so Louisville's offense better be ready to keep up and score in bunches.

6. Texas (7-1, Last: 6)
Last: Won at Nebraska, 22-20
Next: at Texas Tech

Nebraska just boosted ABC's Big XII Title ratings by 100% (brought to you by Dr. Pepper – have you heard that they have 23 flavors yet?) by proving that they could play with the big, bad Horns.  I penalize the ‘Horns in my talent rankings, but, for this poll, I still do not see them losing to anyone on their schedule, so why would I drop them?

7. Florida (6-1, Last: 7)
Last: Lost at Auburn, 27-17 (October 14)
Next: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)

As Georgia and Florida State continue to struggle and look like automatic wins, the Auburn loss must sting all the more.  How great would a Florida vs. Michigan/Texas matchup be for a Sugar Bowl, though?

8. Auburn (7-1, Last: 8)
Last: Won vs. Tulane, 38-13
Next: vs. Arkansas State (November 4)

One week into a brutal three-week out-of-conference stretch typical of SEC teams (Tulane, bye, Arkansas State), Auburn has the luxury of lightly using its starters and scouting (which Ohio State, bless Tressel for his honesty, admits it is doing for Michigan) future, tougher opponents.  Again, rant of the year, but I really think more powerhouses should schedule the creampuffs for late-October/November, not early September.

9. Notre Dame (6-1, Last: 9)
Last: Won vs. UCLA, 20-17
Next: vs. Navy (Baltimore)

Karl Dorrell's troops shut down Notre Dame's offense all day.  Last drive of the game, Dorrell drops them into a prevent, rush-three formation.  The result was all too predictable.

10. Tennessee (6-1, Last: 10)
Last: Won vs. Alabama, 16-13
Next: at South Carolina

Alabama is probably the one team that does more to hurt the SEC's national reputation than anybody – no one seems to beat these guys in a game that involves more than 30 total points or fewer than five field goals.

11. California

I have written this week's Sweep before the new polls are out, but if I know college football, I am sure Cal will lose ground for the near-loss to Washington, but I personally gained more respect for the Bears and Jeff Tedford.  How easy would it have been to let the miracle Hail Mary (and next time, those defensive backs might want to try for the sure breakup, and not the stat-padding interception) demoralize the team and allow the Huskies to run away with it in overtime?  But no, Cal punched right back and won the most dramatic Pac-10 game thus far this season.

12. Boise State

I have nothing to say about Boise State (come on, you don't either), so it is with relief (and sympathy for Mr. Eubanks) that I transcribe the following:

Girlfriend: What are you working on?
Me: Football.
Her: Oh. (Pause.) I thought you were doing real work.

13. Clemson

What we suspected all along has now been confirmed: the rest of the ACC is just living in Clemson's world.  The win versus Georgia Tech, the latest in a sequence of dominant victories, pushed the Tigers undeniably over the hump in my mind, and thus the leap from last week's 16.

14. Arkansas

Though I am partial to Illinois and Missouri for their aptly-named quarterbacks Juice Williams and Chase Daniels (hearing his name always makes me turn around…), Arkansas is probably the state school from middle-America that has impressed the most this season.  The hire of star true frosh quarterback Mitch Mustain's high school offensive coordinator looks better by the week.

15. Wisconsin

From last week: "Wisconsin is the Big 10's new Minnesota: get blown out by Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State/Iowa/whoever happens to be good that year, and run for 300 yards and win by five touchdowns against the rest of the league."  This week: a three-touchdown win and 241 rushing yards against Purdue.  Maybe that move to open an offshore sportsbook in Barbados is coming sooner than I thought.

16. Oklahoma

The Sooners drop Colorado to 1-7 – so much for Dan Hawkins' advanced meditative techniques.  Stanford comes close, sure, but I think the Buffs can properly claim the title of most disappointing season to-date.

17. Nebraska

Last week: "For all we know, Texas is nothing special this year."  This week: "For all we know, Texas is nothing special this year."  Nebraska's Herculean efforts to unthrone the Big 12 power really showed me nothing about either team – I do not know whether to credit Nebraska, downgrade Texas or both.  So I will borrow a page out of the major polls' playbook (they do this all the time, by the way) and just keep Nebraska about where it was last week after a narrow loss to a higher-ranked team.

18. LSU

Any drama surrounding this week's win over Fresno State left after the first quarter, but it's hard to fault LSU for scheduling a team that looked far better coming into the season than they do now at 1-6.  With two conference losses, though, the Tigers are playing for the Peach Bowl right now.

19. Missouri

After last week's loss to Texas Tech, this week's major bounce-back win over Kansas State is the type of game that separates the Tigers from their historic 7-5 and a 9-2 regular season this year.  This team is perhaps the single biggest beneficiary of the Big 12's weakness, but watch out for fast-charging Nebraska.

20. Wake Forest

Revenge of the nerd schools this season as Duke comes just short (five yards) against Miami; Vanderbilt pulls the shocker over Georgia; and Wake is off to its best start in years.  Enjoy life in a watered-down ACC – on talent, this team probably is not in the Top 40.

21. Boston College

I do not think any ACC team has ever knocked out traditional heavyweights Virginia Tech and Florida State in consecutive games until the Eagles did just that with a scrappy 24-19 win over the Seminoles.  In retrospect, maybe the Eagles should have stayed in the Big East – they are probably good enough to win the whole thing this year.

22. Oregon

Sure, this week's loss to Washington State was ugly, as was the previous loss to Cal, as will be the loss to USC.  But the Ducks should win the rest of them and finish the regular season with just three losses.  That is good enough for inclusion in the bottom of the poll.

23. Rutgers

I have held out as long as I could – these guys are for real.  Or real enough to push West Virginia and Louisville to possibly finish the season with just one loss and a share of the crown – or outright undefeated.  There is not a lot of speed up and down the roster, but they run it and defend the run well, and that is enough to beat 80 percent of Division I-A teams.

24. Texas A&M

The final three games should sink their ship (Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska), but for now, 7-1 will give the Aggies the benefit of the doubt.  Their lofty record and yet another tight loss for Alabama must leave Tide fans seething.

25. Tulsa

Stop laughing.  6-1 is 6-1, and will likely be 10-1 with Conference USA bottom-feeders remaining.  Plus, these are projective rather than talent rankings, and 10-1 will get them Top 25 votes aplenty.  That, and Stanford did not seem a viable option.

On the Bubble: Georgia, Penn State, Washington

RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY

Pursuing Imperfection -- 68%

Oops, they did it again.  With another ugly loss this past weekend, Stanford took another step toward its first winless season since 1960.  To put that in perspective, many of our football players' parents were in the womb in 1960.  (And many probably wish they were now.)  Anyhow, after yet again arguably the ugliest week of the season, by far, here is my latest guess as the rest of the Pac-10 also starts to come into focus.  (And what a sad statement that I am just reusing the above sentences every week.)

Opponent Stanford's odds of victory
bye no comment
USC 3%
@ Washington 10% (last week 15%)
Oregon State 20%
@ Cal 2%

Feel free to agree or disagree with the numbers (and plug in your own if you like), but using the above odds I estimate and update each week, Stanford now has a 68% chance of running the table the wrong way.

Weekly BCS Projection:

ACC: Clemson
Big East: West Virginia
Big 10: Ohio State
Big 12: Texas
Pac-10: USC
SEC: Florida
At-large: Boise State
At-large: Michigan
At-large: Notre Dame
At-large: Tennessee

Projected Heisman finalists, and order of finish:

1. Troy Smith, Ohio State – Even an ugly loss to Michigan might not be enough.
2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame – Karl Dorrell's stupidity vaults him toward the top of the list.
3. Mike Hart, Michigan – Prime-time two-touchdown performance versus Iowa.  Has gone over 100 yards every game this season save one.
4. Steve Slaton, West Virginia – Needs an undefeated season to have a shot.
5. Ferris Bueller – As in, "anyone, anyone?"  No one else has made a serious push yet.

BIG GAMES ON TAP

Season: 14-10 ATS, 15-9 SU.
Last week: Michigan and Clemson win easily, while Texas gets the W, but not the cover.  As an aside, I think I have convinced an Economics professor to give me research credit for looking into how to beat betting lines.  I think that beats Intermediate Microeconomics.

1. Florida at Georgia – If Florida is the nation's best one-loss team (jury's still out), Georgia may well be the nation's worst two-loss team.  Both teams get fired up for this one, so maybe it is closer than expected at first, but at the end of the day, talent wins – big.  Florida 34, Georgia 16.

2. Miami at Georgia Tech – Miami's struggles (WWE-worthy fight; last-second goal line interception to seal the win over Duke) are well-documented, but this Georgia Tech team has cruised the whole season on the "strength" of a four-point loss to Notre Dame.  Larry Coker knew his schedule when he suspended half his two-deep only a week, and those playmakers will make the difference this Saturday.  Miami 24, Georgia Tech 16.

3. Oklahoma at Missouri – Oklahoma's best win is Oregon or Washington; Missouri's best win is Texas Tech.  The talent differential at the two schools in similarly significant, so look for Oklahoma to roll, albeit ugly, even without Adrian Peterson.  Oklahoma 19, Missouri 7.


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