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 (12-0, Last: 2)
Last: Won vs. Michigan, 42-39
Michigan has had loads of success blitzing the safety under new defensive coordinator this season. Ohio State was the only team talented enough to pick up the blitz and they took advantage - hitting post patterns repeatedly and busting two long touchdowns up the middle. Ted Ginn flat out beat Michigan corner Leon Hall, a guy Lloyd Carr called the best corner he's ever seen (and he's coached Ty Law and Charles Woodson) several times. The defense looks susceptible, but the offense may well be a better unit than USC's 2004 version and the best that college football has ever seen.
2. USC (9-1, Last: 3)
Last: Won vs. Cal, 23-9
Next: vs. Notre Dame
USC trails Michigan by .07 in this week's BCS, a number they can easily make up if they win out. Might that cause some Cardinal fans to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame this weekend? As a Michigan slappy not delusional enough to think UCLA has a prayer, I have no choice.
3. Michigan (11-1, Last: 1)
Last: Lost at Ohio State, 42-39
Two blinks of Michigan's offensive eye might have cost them in Columbus. 1) Down seven in the early third, settling for a long field goal instead of a 4th & 7 attempt. 2) A 4th & (long) 1 punt from the Michigan 45, down by 11 in the third quarter, given that you have, arguably, the best offensive line and running back in the country. Visions of Walt Harris here. Also, guess those Ron English-to-Stanford posts can subside a little now.
This has to be the Florida-Florida State matchup with the least luster ever. Given that Florida is already in the SEC Title Game, and its BCS hopes are dead (Michigan is too far ahead and is not losing again), the question of interest will be if a bowl will snatch up the 6-6 Seminoles, assuming a loss. My guess is yes, but if not, one of the nation's longest bowl streaks will come to an end.
The Big East championship picture reminds me of the game they play on the Jumbotron at Maples. Give one of three teams the championship, then mix them up really well and see if anyone can figure it out. Assuming no further upsets, West Virginia gets the short end of this deal. A win against Rutgers would give the conference crown to Louisville, while Rutgers could take it for themselves with a W.
The nation's quietest 11-1 season drew to a close. They give Michigan a huge strength-of-schedule boost (their only loss was at home to the Wolverines). They probably do not deserve a BCS bid, but travel well and will almost assuredly get one over some more worthy two-loss SEC team (say, LSU or the SEC Title loser).
7. Louisville (9-1, Last: 7)
Last: Won vs. South Florida, 31-8
Next: at Pittsburgh
One of this past Saturday's biggest winners was Louisville. No, not for their demolition of inferior Big East stock, but for Rutgers' loss at the hands of Cincinnati. As a result, the Cardinals are just a favored West Virginia victory over Rutgers. And once the wheels fall off for a Cinderella, it is all downhill from there - away from a Big East crown and BCS berth.
One of the easiest schedules in the country catches up with the Hogs now, who must face LSU and Florida, the conference's two most talented teams, in consecutive weeks. Their probable losses are going to take away the luster from what was USC's biggest win to-date, and might cause Florida to jump the Trojans in some computer polls.
Touchdown Jesus and First Down Moses are going to need some help from Blind Side Buddha, Middle Linebacker Mohammed, the Papal Punter and any other religious icons the Irish can take with them to central Los Angeles. Steve Smith really came into his own against Cal, and the defensive line is as stout as ever. Whichever team can most exploit the other's secondary has the edge.
I wrote it here last week: "Be warned. Cincinnati is flying under the radar, but plays the big boys tough. I smell an upset brewing." Rutgers still sneaks into the BCS with wins the rest of the way because of their win over Louisville. Given that they were not making the BCS Title Game anyways, nor finishing a perfect 13-0 because a USC or Texas or Florida is going to kill them by 30 in a BCS game, they really did not lose much with the loss.
With no SEC Title game for the preseason number-two team in the country, perhaps all those football players will finally find the time to go to class. Then again, as the New York Times reported months ago, probably not.
The traditional day-after-Thanksgiving battle with Texas A&M just does not have the same luster this year. One national thought: if Ohio State does go on to beat USC or Michigan again, that will make two straight years that tall, strong, mobile, black quarterbacks lead their team to a national title. I think that is a first in history, and signals a transition in the position from a primarily white drop-back passer to a mobile dual-threat, usually black, signalcaller.
After the two early losses to Florida and Auburn, the Tigers have roared back into the pollsters' national Top 10 and BCS berth consideration. Every year, the tough SEC schedule cannibalizes someone (last year: Tennessee) and this year was the Tigers' turn.
14. Boise State
With the losses piling up for teams ahead of them (this week: Cal, Rutgers), the Broncos just need to take care of their own business, and they will get the $12 million dollars and national butt-whooping that comes with a BCS berth. Scary thought: what if they draw Florida or USC, two teams known to hang a large number?
If Texas A&M shocks Texas on Friday, book the Sooners for a Big 12 Title tilt with Nebraska. Stranger things have happened for this young team that is on the verge of a monster season next year.
16. Virginia Tech
Try to tell me these Hokies are not playing better than many of the teams listed above. It just goes to prove that while pollsters are biased against teams that lose late, they are also biased against teams that lose enough early to drop out of the poll all together.
The good news: the Arizona loss looks a little better all of a sudden. The bad: one of the Bears' most productive plays was a safety. Cal looked like they choked under the pressure of a Rose Bowl berth, and will enter Big Game on a two-game losing streak.
No one like Vanderbilt to right the ship. Still, one national championship won after Florida State's starter went down to injury (and a better Ohio State team was passed up) does not change the facts: Phil Fulmer has been getting outcoached in that league for years.
20. Georgia Tech
Off a pounding of winless Duke, the Yellow Jackets enter their rivalry game with Georgia looking the best they have in years, while Georgia looks the worst it has in years. Heck, Reggie Ball even completed his last outing without throwing an interception. Still, the Jackets need to visit Athens, and judging by the poor showing the ACC has made this season, I would not be shocked by a Georgia upset.
21. Boston College
With the win over Maryland, sparked by two fumble recoveries for scores by the same defensive lineman, Boston College just needs the Terps to knock off Wake Forest to get to the ACC Title Game.
South Carolina really needs a win this weekend to help with the in-state recruiting battles. Now that Jeff has been unceremoniously disposed at Florida State, it is up to Tommy to carry on the family rivalry with the Spurriers. I think he acquits himself well this weekend.
Filling in slots 20-25 is like judging a beauty pageant at a Jenny Craig convention. All the teams have their flaws, but I think Maryland wins out and ends up in the national Top 25, so I will slot them here for now.
A school with football icons such as LaVell Edwards and Steve Young is returning to the big time with an impressive season in the strongest conference you have never heard of, the Mountain West.
Welcome to another team that feasted on a weak schedule to the tune of a 9-2 record. My theory for years has been that Hawaii, if located in say, Kansas, would be a .500 club at best. But between attracting recruits, attracting home games, and absolutely killing visitors with the long flight plus all the distractions, the team has managed to go 8-4 or better for years.
RAMBLINGS 'ROUND THE COUNTRY
Weekly BCS Projection:
ACC: Georgia Tech over Boston College
Big East: West Virginia
Big 10: Ohio State
Big 12: Texas over Nebraska
SEC: Florida over Arkansas
At-large: Boise State
At-large: Notre Dame
At-large: West Virginia
Projected Heisman finalists, and order of finish:
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State – 29-of-41, 316 yards, four touchdowns, one interception against Michigan. Enough said.
BIG GAMES ON TAP
Season: 19-14 ATS, 19-14 SU.
Last week: 3-0 ATS, 2-1 SU
USC took Cal by two touchdowns, and Virginia Tech made Wake look silly, as I predicted. Michigan did not pull out the win, but they did cover.
1. Notre Dame at USC – USC is playing this as much for style points as they are for a straight-up victory. Look for a garbage-time touchdown or two. USC 38, Notre Dame 17.
2. LSU at Arkansas – Look for the creative offensive playcalling to continue to work wonders for Arkansas and to set off an offensive revolution in the SEC. Just not against a team infinitely more talented. Arkansas keeps it close early, but LSU pulls away late. LSU 27, Arkansas 17.
3. Wake Forest at Maryland – Midnight has struck for Cinderella. Maryland is the nation's most underrated team right now, but they will not be in a week. Maryland 24, Wake Forest 10.
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