The Sweep: Week Nine

It finally happened: USC slipped up. After the Trojans were caught in Corvallis, several famous streaks ended. More importantly, we have a radically different picture looking ahead to the 2006 college football season's year-end rankings. Daniel's newest projections have a Big 10 one-two and a Big East three-four. Some very big games are brewing in the coming weeks, including a dandy on Thursday.

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 (9-0, Last: 1)
Last: Won vs. Minnesota, 44-0
Next: at Illinois

2. Michigan (9-0, Last: 3)
Last: Won vs. Northwestern, 17-3
Next: vs. Ball State

I will be using this space in the next few weeks to preview the upcoming Ohio State-Michigan game, which yours truly might be lucky enough to cover for The Bootleg.

This week: when Ohio State is on offense.

Offensively, Ohio State is the Troy Smith/Antonio Pittman/Ted Ginn show.  Michigan's front four, led by top-10-pick-in-the-making Alan Branch, is dominant enough to shut down the running game of Antonio Pittman, and the linebackers, led by All-American-in-the-making Dave Harris, disciplined enough to prevent Smith from running for 200 yards against the Wolverines, but can Michigan stop the long ball?  Lloyd Carr called top corner Leon Hall the best he has seen (and he coached Charles Woodson) entering the season, and Hall has lived up to the hype, but Ohio State should be able to pick on the Morgan Trent/Charles Stewart duo on the opposite side.  I expect Ohio State to score between 20 and 25 points on about 220 passing and 50 rushing yards.

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

The defense is not going to stop Louisville, so maybe it should play a soft zone, prevent the big play and make Louisville take 10 or 12 plays to punch it in, not three.  Rutgers and Pitt are still on the slate – the Big East definitely backloaded their schedule.

4. Louisville (7-0, Last: 5)
Last: Won at Syracuse, 28-13 (October 21)
Next: vs. West Virginia (November 2)

Here is your first of a possible four Top-Five matchups this season (also Michigan/Ohio State, Auburn/Florida in the SEC Championship and the national title game), and you can throw out the old adage defense wins championships.  Win or lose, Louisville comes out a winner as they get two extra days to prepare for Rutgers.

5. Texas (7-1, Last: 6)
Last: Won at Texas Tech, 35-31
Next: vs. Oklahoma State

Good thing the nation was too busy watching USC choke to watch Texas fall behind 21-0 to the Red Raiders.  Texas almost did the same thing against Nebraska the week before – this is a team that would be 8-4 in the SEC.

6. USC (6-1, Last: 2)
Last: Lost at Oregon State, 33-31
Next: at Stanford

A different offensive coordinator might have won this one.  USC had 4th & Goal on the Beavers eight, down 23 in the third quarter.  In all probability, you need four scores anyways, so I would have kicked it.  But USC panicked and fired low and incomplete.  Also, when they scored their first touchdown to cut the lead to 17, they should have gone for two then, instead of taking the extra point.  That way, with a miss, they would have had time to adjust, instead of missing with seven seconds left.

Whether USC's fall from grace is temporary or long-term remains a question.

7. Florida (7-1, Last: 7)
Last: Won vs. Georgia, 21-14 (Jacksonville)
Next: at Vanderbilt

As the authoritative blog edsbs.com confirms, the offense has taken a major step backward by eliminating the deep pass from the playbook (not to mention the slant against blitzes), but the defense is as strong as ever.  The schedule is markedly easier from here on out.

8. Auburn (7-1, Last: 8)
Last: Won vs. Tulane, 38-13 (October 21)
Next: vs. Arkansas State

Auburn closes its three-week gauntlet (Tulane, bye, Arkansas State) this Saturday.  Fun game: find the easiest Division I-A schedule in the land and predict Stanford's record.  I bet this team could go 5-6, maybe even make a bowl, with the right slate of opponents.

9. Notre Dame (7-1, Last: 9)
Last: Won vs. Navy, 38-14 (Baltimore)
Next: vs. North Carolina

Notre Dame has scheduled the September of its schedule in November, again an absolutely brilliant move.  Rest up in the middle of the season and sneak in the creampuffs when the rest of the country is watching Florida-Georgia.  Their strength of schedule is killing them in any BCS national title argument.

10. Tennessee (7-1, Last: 10)
Last: Won vs. South Carolina 24-17
Next: vs. LSU

Two consecutive ugly offensive outputs will work against Alabama and South Carolina, but Tennessee needs to bring the "A" game against LSU this weekend.  It will be a nice SEC matchup and all, but this game looked so much bigger heading into the season.

11. California

The biggest loser Saturday might well have been Cal.  An upset of an undefeated USC might have been enough to propel them into the national title game, and a narrow loss might have seen them sneak into the Rose Bowl as an at-large.  Now, best case scenario is a Rose Bowl berth with a win in Los Angeles.  UCLA is looking for two more wins to reach a bowl (conceivably everyone but Stanford and Arizona could qualify in the conference), so they should play with passion this weekend.

12. Boise State

Boise State has to love watching the madness unfold ahead of it in the polls.  This week, they get a national opportunity to show their stuff against Fresno State in yet another game that was supposed to be a battle of undefeateds.  Instead, the Bulldogs enter at 1-6.

13. Arkansas

Their offense involves more lateral movement and pre-snap shifting than any I have seen since Donovan McNabb lined up at Syracuse.  A visit to South Carolina could be dangerous for the Hogs, who are sitting on a two-game lead in the SEC West.  Florida better hope Arkansas chokes, so they get a shot at another quality opponent in Auburn.

14. Wisconsin

Wisconsin is yet another near-perfect team that fell behind early to an inferior opponent (Illinois) only to rally.  And unlike USC, they won, keeping their BCS aspirations alive.  If Notre Dame and Wisconsin run the table, Michigan might get enough love from the computers (the schools' only losses are to Michigan) to sneak into a rematch with the Buckeyes with a narrow loss November 18.

15. Oklahoma

It took longer than we thought, but this team is coming around into Top-10 form.  A visit to Texas A&M will determine the Big 12 pecking order come bowl time.

16. LSU

Finally, an opponent with a pulse.  LSU's wins to-date are Louisiana Lafayette, Arizona, Tulane, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Fresno State.  Playing in a tough conference only brings respect if you can beat the bad boys from time to time.

17. Boston College

Virginia Tech's knockout of Clemson puts Boston College back in the driver's seat in the ACC Atlantic.  How about the ACC: six teams currently bowl-eligible (Boston College, Wake Forest, Maryland, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech) and everyone but North Carolina and Duke conceivably in striking distance.

18. Rutgers

Tailback Ray Rice will be drooling as he watches West Virginia and Louisville gain a combined 500 rushing yards.  Finally, New York City might have found its college football team – and if Rutgers can regularly start winning the city's top prospects, we could have a dynasty in the making.

20. Wake Forest

Needing a fourth-quarter rally to down coachless 1-7 North Carolina is probably not a good omen for the Boston College game this weekend.  The winner of this game will control its destiny in the ACC Atlantic.

21. Oregon

Ugly, ugly, ugly as Oregon laid a shellacking on Portland State.  In Pac-10 news, did you catch Washington State in the Top 25?  Is this 1997 all over again?  Are pigs flying?

22. 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.

23. Virginia Tech

And they are back, with a lockdown defensive effort against Clemson.  Strange ACC fact: if Florida State loses three of Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Michigan and Florida, they will miss a bowl.  Unlikely, but what an end to the Bowden dynasty that would be.

24. Tulsa

Watch the national media catch on in another four weeks.  7-1 speaks loudly.

25. Clemson

The Virginia Tech debacle notwithstanding, Clemson stays in the poll as their remaining road (Maryland, North Carolina State, bye, South Carolina - all at home) is easiest of any ACC contender.

Dropped: Missouri, Nebraska
On the Bubble: Penn State, Maryland

RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY

Pursuing Imperfection -- 77%

With Oregon State's impressive win, the odds of seeing Stanford's first winless season since 1960 increased over the bye week – that is the type of season it has been.  Anyhow, here is my latest guess.

Opponent Stanford's odds of victory
USC 3%
@ Washington 10%
Oregon State 10% (last week 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 77% chance of running the table the wrong way.

Race to 100:

With USC, Washington, Oregon State and Cal remaining, I predict the Cardinal get outscored by 100 the rest of the way.  We will track it by the week.

Weekly BCS Projection:

ACC: Georgia Tech over Boston College
Big East: West Virginia
Big 10: Ohio State
Big 12: Texas over Nebraska
Pac-10: USC (because Cal visits)
SEC: Florida over Arkansas
At-large: Michigan
At-large: Boise State
At-large: Notre Dame
At-large: Tennessee

Projected Heisman finalists, and order of finish:

1. Troy Smith, Ohio State – Michigan would have to wallop him, and even that might not be enough.
2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame – I am told to expect him to go at least this high next April.
3. Mike Hart, Michigan – Major scare when he fell on a first-down marker this past weekend.  He is fine, but the reluctance of the staff to open up the playbook (they are saving it all for Ohio State) is costing his campaign.
4. Steve Slaton, West Virginia – This Thursday is the test.

BIG GAMES ON TAP

Season: 16-11 ATS, 17-10 SU.
Last week: Florida and Oklahoma roll while Miami choked away another one.

1. West Virginia at Louisville – The game is a crapshoot to me, as West Virginia's slightly better talent and Louisville's homefield edge seem about a wash, but I do know one thing.  Bet the over.  West Virginia 37, Louisville 30 (OT).

2. LSU at Tennessee – Tennessee has run through the meat of its SEC schedule, while LSU has faced creampuffs in recent weeks.  Plus, the Vols have a BCS berth to play for.  Advantage, Tennessee.  Tennessee 24, LSU 13.

3. Boston College at Wake Forest – The clock turns midnight on this season's Cinderella, as the talent differential up and down the rosters makes this one a laugher.  Boston College 44, Wake Forest 14.


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