The Sweep: Week Four

The Sweep takes no prisoners as it breaks down the college football season at the 25 percent mark. USC's No. 1, but they're the only Pac-10 team in our top 18. (And just what is The Sweep's take on the Pac-10's performance this past week?) Card opponents Notre Dame, Arizona State, Cal and Oregon are all in our poll and our thoughts, so read on for plenty on Stanford and college football nation...

Week 4 Poll

1. USC (Change: +1)
2. Oklahoma (Change: -1)
3. Florida (Change: 0)
4. Georgia (Change: 0)
5. Missouri (Change: +1)
6. Texas Tech (Change: +1)
7. LSU (Change: +1)
8. Texas (Change: +2)
9. Penn State (Change: +2)
10. South Florida (Change: +3)
11. Auburn (Change: -2)
12. Ohio State (Change: -7)
13. West Virginia (Change: +5)
14. Wisconsin (Change: -2)
15. Alabama (Change: -1)
16. BYU (Change: +3)
17. Utah (Change: 0)
18. Clemson (Change: -1)
19. Oregon (Change: 0)
20. Tennessee (Change: +6)
21. Cal (Change: -6)
22. Virginia Tech (Change: -1)
23. Wake Forest (Change: +2)
24. East Carolina (Change: +1)
25. Notre Dame (Change: +1)

Tennessee, Notre Dame
Dropped: Kansas, Arizona State

Poll justifications and team psychoanalysis:

USC to No. 1. Oklahoma's done nothing to drop, but USC, you did everything in your power to solidify a No. 1 ranking. Not to channel my inner John Madden and state the painfully obvious, but if you dominate in every phase of the game a team that has appeared in the national title the past two years running (and returns 19 starters to boot), you deserve a No. 1 ranking.  As I said before the season began, Mark Sanchez does look like the real successor to Palmer and Leinart, not another imposter John David Booty.  The Trojan offense is also finding a go-to receiver in Damien Williams.  The pressure generated against the OSU defense was just savage.  Pete Carroll is a master on par with Nick Saban in terms of defensive preparation.

Georgia does not slide, unlike in the AP and Coaches' polls, because a road win in the SEC is a win.  Yes, Stafford and the air attack did not dominate as expected, but they played that game in an absolute hornets' nest in Columbia, So. Car.

Auburn dips despite the in-conference win due to the fact that they set the sport of college football back 40 years with that 3-2 win over Mississippi State. While Georgia has talents from Stafford to Knowshon Moreno and Caleb King, Auburn does not have Georgia's firepower and, to put it charitably, is struggling mightily to install Tony Franklin's version of the spread.

Ohio State falls out of the top ten with that performance.  That display was significantly worse than either of your BCS Championship game humiliations.  Yes, there was no Beanie Wells.  Unless he's singlehandedly worth 32 points, that's still no excuse. Also, as predicted before the season, OSU's chances of winning rapidly approach zero when Todd Boeckman is tasked with leading the team back.  He'll never win a game by himself for the Buckeyes.  Super-frosh Terrellle Pryor looked a true freshman against USC's defense.  It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see if Pryor sees more playing time in meaningful games, instead of glorified practice reps.  Finally, this loss really stains the reputation of the Big Ten.  More on that below. 

To end on a positive note, BYU, you straight up pants-ed UCLA.  Remember, the UCLA that beat Tennessee.  But, then, the Cougars threw for SEVEN touchdown passes against DeWayne Walker's defense.  Let's all hope that BYU and Utah continue to march through the season unbeaten until their end-of-season rivalry game.  It would be great fun if this nationally-underappreciated, nasty rivalry could determine a BCS berth.

Assorted thoughts...

1. The Pac-10 stinks. We have no right to complain all season any time we hear about USC and the nine dwarves. Oregon State is the only other team that looked halfway decent last weekend, and after their Penn State showing, their reputation is Lindsay-Lohan level anyways. Oregon needed overtime to get past Purdue, last relevant in 2002. (Am I the only one who thinks Joe Tiller looks like that dude in the Diabetes commercials?) Cal falling behind 21-3 to lose at Maryland: hey Weenies, this isn't basketball.

ASU takes the cake though for their impeccable sense of timing. It's a week before their Georgia visit and Georgia suddenly looks vulnerable. Win, and College Gameday and the eyes of the nation will be focused on Tempe. Plus, second in the Pac-10 is theirs for the taking after Oregon and Cal look thoroughly mediocre. Then, they lose, at home, to UNLV in overtime.

We're turning into the ACC West here. Bonus points go to the state of Washington, with Washington getting smoked 55-14 at Oklahoma, and WSU losing by 28 points to Baylor. Baylor!

2. The Bermuda triangle is alive and well. If anyone needs to be convinced of the importance of probability and random occurrences, just look at Michigan's visit to Notre Dame this past Saturday. What are the odds that Michigan would turnover the ball over six times, losing four fumbles and two gift-wrapped Nick Sheridan interceptions? (No, the Irish did not force six turnovers.  They caused two – an interception in which they hit a throwing Nick Sheridan and Kevin Grady's fumble.) What are the odds of a game featuring a torrential downpour in the second half, and the most serious injury occuring to a coach. What were the chances of the officiating crew making several questionable calls? (Okay, bad example.) The probability of all of that happening during one game is infinitesimally small, especially considering Michigan last had six turnovers in one game since 1992.

However, I believe several things can be gleaned from this game.  Rich Rodriguez and Michigan are making strides.  The Wolverines went on several long drives, and actually outgained Notre Dame by 100 yards. The drives stalled, but their existence alone was a much-needed improvement over previous weeks.  Also, I believe the QB situation has been finalized.  Steven Threet made good decisions throwing the ball, exhibited leadership, and demonstrated toughness after an apparent leg injury.  Nick Sheridan did little to cause coaches or fans to think he will ever be an FBS-level quarterback.  Also, Sam McGuffie firmly emerged as the primary running back, running for 131 yards and reminding Big Blue of a frosh running back who broke onto the national scene four years ago, Michael Hart. While this is a loss, Michigan can definitely build on several positive aspects.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, may not be back to the level of the first two years under Weis, but may also be making strides.  They capitalized on turnovers and executed their first-half gameplan to perfection when Michigan's fumbles opened the door.  The oh-so-chic Jimmy Clausen does appear to have improved too.  What must concern the Irish coaching staff is their defense, which continually allowed Michigan to march up and down the field, considering how painfully inept it had looked the previous two weeks. Just like Stanford lucked out by getting Oregon State in the season opener, getting Notre Dame Oct. 4 is a stroke of good luck. I don't know how well the Card will be able to stop Notre Dame's running backs, but they should be able to move the ball on the Irish.

3. And on the horizon... Well, we don't have quite the lineup of last week, but there will still be much fun to be had this Saturday.  At 9 a.m. Palo Alto time, we have Troy playing at Ohio State, which is interesting for several reasons.  Troy has challenged and beaten several BCS teams in the last few years, including Oklahoma State last year.  I think I speak for all when I say that I'd like to see how Ohio State rebounds from their experience in L.A.  As a side note, Penn State continues to pillage its way across its soft-as-a-baby's-bottom schedule, playing Temple this week.  At 12:30 PT, Tennessee and Florida renew one of the SEC's nastiest rivalries. Afternoon SEC rivalry games are always fun. especially when you're watching them in Atlanta bars, nearly getting killed for cheering against Georgia. (There's no place like the SEC, and that's probably a good thing for the rest of our country.)  Finally, Georgia and Arizona State play at 5 p.m. PT in Tempe.  Georgia hasn't traveled west of the Mississippi in quite some time, and how about the coaching matchup of Mark Richt and Dennis Erickson? Let's just hope this intersectional game is more entertaining than last week's.

Ranking the conferences

With the out-of-conference matchups winding down, it's high time to whip out our No. 2 pencils and rank the BCS conferences, but mixed in with a little regional diversity and someone who can put me in my place. My best friend Jim Meza just graduated college on the opposite coast (some place called Princeton), has been watching college football with me for the past ten years and insulting me all along, so I figured who better to go PTI-style with as we rank the BCS six.

1. SEC (Seeing as it's my column, these are my rankings, Jim. Home-field advantage.)

Daniel's take: Jim, even you can't argue this one. Any claim the Pac-10 had went up in flames last weekend, and the Big 12 and the Big 10 are a combined Big Four and Little 18. Now that I'm in the South and exposed to SEC games every week, the biggest difference to my eyes is defense. (And fanbases' sobriety.) There's the NFL, there's the rest of college football, and, at least for the last few years, there's the SEC somewhere in the middle.

Jim's take: You'll get no argument from me on this placement. The Pac-10 has some coaching talent, but just look at the coaches in the ESS EEE CEE.  In the West, there's Les Miles (1 SEC title, 1 National Title, 1 Sugar Bowl win), Nick Saban (two SEC titles, one national title), Bobby Petrino (one Big East title and one Orange Bowl win), Houston Nutt (2006 SEC West crown), and Tommy Tuberville (one SEC title, one BCS appearance, one 13-0 season).  It's even more impressive in the East: Urban Meyer (one SEC and national title), Mark Richt (two SEC titles, three BCS appearances with two wins), Steve Spurrier (six SEC titles and one national title), and Phil Fulmer (one SEC title, one national title, two BCS appearances).  No other conference boasts a group of coaches like that.

2. Pac-10

Daniel's take: Two, three and four are all pretty close in my eyes, but USC's the tiebreaker, and that's a mighty good tiebreaker to have. The Pac-10's best has proven itself about 30 points better than the Big 12's best (Oklahoma) and the Big 10's best (Ohio State) over the past few seasons, so now all I need to do is show that the next level of Pac-10 teams, the Arizona State-Oregon-Cal triumvirate, is within striking distance of Missouri-Texas Tech-Texas and Wisconsin-Penn State-whoever the Big 10's fourth-best team is this year. I know the tendency is to overreact to an admittedly god-awful week from Oregon, Cal and Arizona State, but I think they'd win their share of games against those other schools. Oregon would score about 62 points against Texas Tech and you know it.

Jim's take: Yes, Daniel, I do not share your Pac-10 homerism and I am going to disagree. I know you're a Pac-10 guy at heart, but you have to admit it's the Big 12 this year.  Yes, USC has beaten OU and OSU in the past years. However, you conveniently left off USC's epic loss to Texas (if you want to say they lost to Vince Young, I won't argue that too strongly).  The Big 12 is poised for a big year THIS year, with teams like Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Missouri and Texas all in your top ten.  Oklahoma State (brought to you by T Boone Pickens and his plan for renewable energy) runs an offense that gives them a chance to knock anyone off. Bo Pelini has an angry Nebraska team ready to finally reemerge from the shadows.  Dan Hawkins is using his Zen magic to slowly reincarnate the Buffs.  Also, the Big 12 has the strongest group of quarterbacks in the nation, by far, including Chase Daniel, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing, Zach Robinson, Joe Ganz, and Cody Hawkins

3. Big 10

Daniel's take: I just can't respect the bottom of the Big 12. Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas for 98 percent of its history – top-25 opponents would be 17-point favorites over these guys. heck, Oklahoma and Texas have had years where they're touchdown-plus favorites over everyone but each other. At least in the Big 10, Minnesota and Indiana have been in bowls this decade, Northwestern used to be a sneaky-good 8-4 team, Illinois' on the rise and Iowa was in the Rose Bowl five years ago. Plus, when the season's done, I think you'll see Penn State and Wisconsin are better than any Big 12 teams but for Oklahoma.

Jim's take: Pac-10 - Again Daniel, I'm not going to mythically rank historical teams.  I'll put the Pac-10 here at number three THIS year. Here, USC does give the Pac-10 the edge over the Big Ten.  The Pac-10 has the monster USC and its nice "triumvirate," as you mentioned before.  Oregon State has been dangerous under Mike Riley and your beloved Stanford has started to make some noise in the Pac-10 for the first time in nearly a decade.  UCLA, despite its woodshed game last week, did beat surprise the nation with its win over Tennessee.  However, the bottom feeders, Washington State and Washington, are positively wretched.

4. Big 12

Daniel's take: There you go again, Jimmy. (I always wanted to paraphrase Ronald Reagan in my college football analysis.) I actually have no idea what you're going to say here, but I know you always liked playing with Texas when we'd go at it in NCAA 2004, so you probably have the Corn Belt Conference higher. Speaking of which, given that there's a Sun Belt Conference, how great would it be to call all the other leagues by their geographic stereotypes? Stanford could play in the Whiny Liberal League, Jim Tressel could have kicked Lloyd Carr's butt all these years in the Nice But Fat and Boring Old People Conference, and the Jim Beam Conference could be No. 1 at literacy and football alike. I hope we pull this off Google before I run for political office one day…

Jim's take: Big Ten - Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice…shame on…me…  (I've always wanted to paraphrase George W. Bush in my football analysis.)  I'll put the Big Ten here at four, leading the second-class citizens of the BCS. Ohio State did get demolished, but it appears that the league may be more than just Ohio State.  Wisconsin survived a landmine game at Fresno State and Penn State has dismembered all comers so far.  While you have brought up the recent history of the Big Ten, the rest of the league appears to be thoroughly mediocre.  Michigan is going through its very own Great Leap Forward, while Purdue, again, found a way to lose. Illinois has no defense and Indiana and Northwestern strike fear into the heart of no one. 

5. ACC

Daniel's take: Wait, there's still an ACC? Obviously there's no luster at the top now that Florida State and Miami are shadows of their former selves, but with Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Clemson, Boston College and Maryland in the league, plus an out-of-conference schedule and a potential conference championship, solid ACC teams could lose seven games in a season (and do all the time). I guess that's backhanded praise, but don't tell me for a second you think Rutgers or South Florida or West Virginia would be within a mile of double-digit win totals with that type of a schedule.

Jim's take: I've really ragged on the ACC of late, but I'll agree with you on this placement.  The ACC still has three-quarters of a year to redeem itself. 

6. Big East

Daniel's take: If we could form a WAC-Mountain West hybrid and start a league with BYU, Utah, TCU, Fresno State and Hawaii, it would actually have a pretty good claim on the five or six spot. If we're limiting ourselves to present-day reality, though, Syracuse's performance thus far this season is a great microcosm for Big East's performance on a national scale: the less said, the better. I know, I know, there's West Virginia, Rutgers and South Florida, but don't mistake a gaudy record for an actual sign of strength. The rest of the league is as soft as that time your defense that time you tried bump-and-run on me at football, and three touchdowns later, tried picking a fight because you knew you were in over your head. You remember it just like that, right, Jimmy?

Jim: I don't quite remember it that way, but whatever helps you sleep at night.  A Mountain West-WAC love child would challenge the Big East in a serious way though. We might be selling West Virginia short in a an overreaction to recent events, as they have beaten Georgia and Oklahoma in BCS bowls in the last three years, albeit with Coach Rod patrolling the sideline.  Also, just to play devil's advocate, South Florida does have a nice win against Kansas, a BCS team a year ago, while the ACC has nary a high-profile win.  But if we want to get into a real cripple fight, the Big East has racked up more high-profile losses than the ACC already this year, with Rutgers (to North Carolina), Cincinnati (to Oklahoma), West Virginia (to East Carolina) and Syracuse (to anyone who fields a football team) all going belly-up. 

And finally, our picks section, also known as Don't Quit Your Day Job:

Last week: The Sweep went 3-0, with a little bit of luck on our side. As we projected, South Florida took Kansas by a field goal, Wisconsin (barely) covered versus Fresno State and USC was all over Ohio State. But, hey, we'll take any and all luck we can get.
3-0 straight-up, 3-0 against the spread.

4-2 against the spread, 5-1 straight-up

Georgia (-6.5) at Arizona State
Neither team looked great last week. Georgia, however, was a. on the road, b. against a top-40 caliber team and, most importantly, c. won. Arizona State and the Pac-10's poor showing took a lot of luster off this one.
Georgia 27, Arizona State 13

LSU (-2) at Auburn
Auburn beat Mississippi State 3-2 last week, with a walkoff two-run homer in the ninth proving decisive. Oh, wait, wrong sport. Let's go with a team that cracked five points in its last game.
LSU 24, Auburn 10

Wake Forest (+4.5) at Florida State
Both teams are 2-0 and in the bottom half of the Top 25, which thrills Wake Forest fans and angers FSU fans to no end. Scary thing is that we might have to consider the winner the favorite in the ACC. Wake Forest needed a last-second field goal to get past Mississippi two weeks ago, but I say Sam Swank comes up big again.
Wake Forest 27, Florida State 24 (OT)

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