The Sweep: Back With a Vengeance

Who's the Sweep's new No. 1? It's not Texas, or Alabama, or USC... Plus, way-too-early BCS projections, our weekly picks and why this year's Pac-10 storyline is increasingly becoming "USC and the little nine," and why that dynamic is bad for the league.

Week 7 Poll

1. Penn State (Change: +2)
2. USC (0)
3. Texas (+2)
4. Florida (+2)
5. Oklahoma (-4)
6. Alabama (+1)
7. Georgia  (+2)
8. Texas Tech (+3)
9. LSU (-5)
10. Ohio State (0)
11. BYU  (+1)
12. Missouri (-4)
13. Utah  (0)
14. California (0)
15. Oklahoma State (+2)
16. Virginia Tech (-1)
17. Michigan State (+4)
18. Boise State (-2)
19. Wake Forest (+1)
20. Kansas (-2)
21. North Carolina (+5)
22. Oregon (0)
23. South Florida (0)
24. TCU (+2)
25. Ball State (+1)

IN: North Carolina, TCU, Ball State
OUT: Wisconsin, Arizona, Auburn, Oregon
ON DECK: Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Tulsa

USC: Back with authority

The Trojans always do best under the radar. After their traditional early-season loss to a lower-level Pac-10 team (Oregon State this year, Stanford last year, Oregon State in 2006), USC wakes up and beat the living snot out of everyone. After dismantling Arizona State and Oregon, the No. 2 and No. 3 preseason Pac-10 teams, by a combined 62 points, it looks like USC's on the start of another season-closing 10-game win streak. A one-loss USC- one-loss Penn State Rose Bowl would be a classic...

Penn State: Baby got back

...that might not happen, though. The Lions are taking no prisoners either, after drawing and quartering Wisconsin 48-7 this past Saturday. Wisconsin, incidentally, was ranked as high as Penn State three weeks ago. In keeping with our theme, "Baby Got Back" is a song last popular in the early '90s, the last time Penn State was this good. (The Lions were 12-0 in 1994, but Nebraska won the national title.) Michigan's won nine straight in the series, but Penn State should snap that streak this week in Happy Valley. Then, the Big Ten title's on the line next weekend in a visit to Ohio State. These next two weeks will make or break the Lions, which is a nice segueway into the team that made the biggest headlines this weekend...

Texas: Back-to-back-to-back?

Predictably, the polls have the Horns No. 1, but I am keeping Texas in a holding pattern. Oklahoma was the first team with a pulse Texas played, so I'm not completely sold yet, and Texas' defense didn't look champion-caliber. Plus, look at Texas' schedule these next five weeks: vs. No. 11 Missouri this Saturday, then vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State, at No. 7 Texas Tech, vs. Baylor and at No. 16 Kansas. They survive all of that, we'll bump them up in the poll.

My bet, however, is that someone catches the Horns in these next few weeks. I think their offense is covering up a weak secondary that these next five opponents should be able to exploit they're that good. Colt McCoy, however, is the clear favorite to win the Heisman right now.

Back to school: the Pac-10

With Arizona dropping a thriller to Stanford, and USC completing its Shermanesque march through the top half of the Pac-10, the league continues, unfortunately, to uphold its "USC and the little nine" image. Just this weekend, we had LSU-Florida, Oklahoma-Texas, Penn State-Wisconsin, Missouri-Oklahoma State, even Texas Tech-Nebraska -- all games featuring two top-25 caliber teams that got more national hype than any Pac-10 contests. The league needs, badly, a strong second or third team to emerge for anyone to take it seriously. (Maybe I'm sipping the Kool-Aid, but does anyone else think a certain team we all root for could fit the bill in two or three years?) We've debated for years on the message boards whether a strong USC is good (takes recruits that would otherwise be starring at Oregon or Cal or UCLA or Arizona State) or bad (getting creamed 42-0 is bad for morale) for Stanford, but it's indisputable that a USC this much better than the rest of the league is bad for the Pac-10.

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Premature BCS projections:
If you can believe it, we've now passed the halfway point of the season and are starting to see which teams harbor legitimate BCS hopes.  So here we go with our early BCS forecast.

National Title Game, No. 1 vs. No. 2: Penn State vs. USC

At this point, most prognosticators will have Texas in the national championship.  However, they have quite a gauntlet of a schedule in the coming weeks, as we discussed earlier.  Penn State, on the other hand, has pillaged its way across its schedule so far.  They will most likely take out a decade's worth of frustration on a hapless Michigan team this weekend. (When's the last time Michigan was a 24-point underdog? Has this ever happened?) Also, would you be surprised if USC made it to the title game?  They've had their requisite early mental hiccup and should win out.  It'd be a privilege to watch two teams so steeped in history play on the biggest stage. 

Early prediction: Penn State 27, USC 24.  Penn State has not displayed a weakness yet this year.  The Lions will win a close, physical game as their running game takes pressure off their QB Clark.  While Mark Sanchez is a fantastic QB, the nasty Nittany Lion defense will negate the Trojan ground game, which has ten options at RB, but no single every-down back.  This will force Sanchez to throw more often, leading to some of the mistakes we've seen so far this season (three picks vs. Arizona State). 

Rose Bowl, Big Ten vs. Pac-10: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma

Of course the Rose Bowl would love to have a Big Ten or Pac-10 team.  They'll have to settle for Ohio State, as no one in the Pac-10 will be worthy of a BCS invite, with Cal dropping one too many between now and December.  However, the Granddaddy of them All will be able to boast a supremely entertaining matchup.  If Texas holds serve and wins the Big 12, Oklahoma would be a logical choice with likely only one loss on its record.  Stoops vs. Tressel – two coaches who've both been recently pantsed by USC!  In addition, talented players like Terrelle Pryor, Malcolm Jenkins, Beanie Wells, Sam Bradford, Demarco Murray, and Manuel Johnson would make this must-see TV. 

Early prediction: Oklahoma 35, Ohio State 31.  Two great defenses, but the offenses will tip the balance in this game. Pryor and Wells with both star, but Bradford and the no-huddle will open holes for the Sooner backs. Special teams will undoubtedly be fun to watch with both of these coaches. 

Orange Bowl, ACC vs. At-Large: Wake Forest vs. Georgia

It seems like no one wants to win the ACC.  With Tommy Bowden finally flat-lining at Clemson, no team looks strong enough to win the conference.  Florida StateMiami? Virginia Tech hasn't made anyone's Top Ten since the East Carolina loss.  So, that leaves the conference's most resourceful overachievers, the Demon Deacons.  Opposite them will be the Florida/Georgia loser who didn't play in the SEC Championship game.  Right now, I think it will be the Dawgs. 

Early projection: Georgia 27, Wake Forest 14.  Georgia will try to do the same thing they did to Hawaii in last year's Sugar Bowl.  But Wake will make a game of it, as the gutty Riley Skinner keeps it closer than the experts believe.

Fiesta Bowl, Big 12 vs. At-Large: Texas vs. BYU

If Texas wins the Big 12, we could have quite an intriguing matchup.  Naturally, this depends on BYU remaining undefeated.  I just hope both Utah and BYU continue to win, and that the rivalry can determine a BCS bid.  As it stands now, you would have Colt McCoy, the Heisman leader who put in the year's best performance by a QB so far, and his swarming defense, led by blitz-monkey Will Muschamp, against a talented BYU team with the nation's longest win streak.

Early prediction: Texas 30, BYU 21. In the end, McCoy is too efficient and the Horn defense too fast for the Cougs, dashing any dreams of 1984.  BYU will show it belongs, but the Longhorns will relish in the post-VY BCS breakthrough.

Sugar Bowl, SEC Champ vs. At-Large: Florida vs. Pitt
Inevitably, the BCS produces some stinkers.  Just like the ACC, no one in the Big East appears to want to win their conference, for fear of facing another conference champion.  Look for Urban's disciples to win a second SEC title in three years.  However, with Penn State's anticipated undefeated record and USC's win streak, Florida will get shut out of the title game this year.  They'll take their frustration out on an overmatched Panther team, as Tebow runs Meyer's dizzyingly complex spread to perfection. 

Early prediction: Florida, BIG, as in 38-14.  As in the camera operators will have trouble following the ball, deciding whether it's been passed off to Jeff Demps up the middle, Harvin on reverses, Tebow on draws, or surgically placed throughout the field to the fleet Gator of receivers.  In short: Meyer and Tebow's masterpiece.

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We close with our picks section, also known as Don't Quit Your Day Job:

Last week: Our first losing week of the season had to come eventually, and Oklahoma and LSU came up short, this was the week. We did say Penn State (-5) over Wisconsin was our best bet, and a 41-3 final later, at least the week wasn't a total wash.
2-1 straight-up, 1-2 against the spread.

12-6 against the spread, 14-4 straight-up.

Missouri (+7) at Texas
I do think Texas is due to be upset these next few weeks, but I don't think Missouri is the team to pull it. Seven points to these teams is like three for everyone else, and so I'm not too worried going with the Horns here.
Texas 38, Missouri 28 

Ohio State (-3) at Michigan State
You don't run on Ohio State. The Buckeyes shut down Javon Ringer, and Michigan State, the Washington State of the Big Ten, finds a way to self-implode with the game on the line. The Spartans haven't won a game this big in a decade -- and they've played in plenty. Clutch at anti-clutch: who would you pick?
Ohio State 24, Michigan State 10

BYU (-2.5) at TCU
This should be the best Thursday night game of the season. BYU wins on the arm of QB Max Hall, largely negating TCU's strength, its rush D. The Cougars had the 28-27 excessive-celebration squeaker over Washington, but has held all other opponents to no more than 17, and won all those games by double digits. It'll be closer here, but I think the Cinderella season continuess.
BYU 20, TCU 17

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