The Sweep: Overrated? Underrated?

The Sweep is back with its weekly poll and its weekly picks, now a wiseguy-esque 14-7 against the spread thus far. Plus, we whip around the Pac-10 and the country in search of overrated and underrated teams. Finally, we look at the disintegration of the No. 11 - No. 25 teams in 85-scholarship limit college football and think about what it might mean for Stanford in years to come.

Week 8 Poll

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

IN: Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Florida State, Northwestern
OUT: Wake Forest, Michigan State, North Carolina, Cal, Virginia Tech
ON DECK: Cal, Tulsa, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Minnesota

All quiet up front

We weren't savants last week, and we're not overly stubborn this week. Our unchanged top ten is just what happens when everyone performs to expectations.

No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 USC continue to steamroll folks, Penn State flattening a better opponent. No. 3 Texas looks dominant offensively, but I feel the same way about its defense as I did about the underside my bed at age five: while I can't quite find the scary monster waiting to jump out when I least expect it, I'm nonetheless sure it's there. (The Longhorns' 111st-ranked pass defense wouldn't be a bad place to start looking.) That's why those top-three teams are ordered as they are.

Rounding out our top ten, Georgia continues to struggle offensively and Texas Tech lets a weak Texas A&M team hang around for way too long, which is why they find themselves behind many of their undefeated and one-loss peers. The one top-ten team that exceeded national expectations last weekend was Ohio State, but we wrote last week that Ohio State should roll the Spartans. We're keeping them steady for this Saturday, as Ohio State is 0-for-its-last-3 in colossal fashion against top-five teams, and Penn State is coming to Columbus in the Big Ten's Game of the Year.

All crazy in the middle

Meanwhile, from No. 11 to No. 25, our poll is more tumultuous than the Dow Jones. That's what happens when, every week, we have the vague sense that any team lower than No. 10 in the poll is overrated, earning their ranking not on the merits, but by default, with no other worthy teams in sight. Sure enough, we suspected there'd be a week when seemingly everyone lost, and this was the week.

My theory: The much-discussed age of parity in this 85-scholarship limit college football era doesn't affect the superpowers as much as it does the second- and third-best teams in each league. (That's why you see teams like Minnesota, who wouldn't be sniffing the top 35 ten years ago, in this week's top 25.)

The Pac-10's a great example of what's happening nationally: USC's still going to get their A-list recruits, but after the Trojans, the window of opportunity is big enough that our beloved Stanford, fresh off a 4-8 season, has the league's second-best recruiting class at the moment. On the field, we're seeing the same thing: after USC, there's five or six teams who could all beat each other any given Saturday. The same logic carries over to just about every other BCS conference that's not the SEC: really good teams run only one or two deep (or, in the ACC and Big East, zero deep). This is all good news for Stanford, by the way, as the climb from No. 8 to No. 3 in the conference isn't as steep as it looks.

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We're deep enough into the season to take some educated stabs, and there's enough of the season left that a mid-course adjustment of our mentality could still be valuable. So, without further ado... 

Florida edition:

Underrated: Florida State

You know the talent's there -- FSU is still a brand-name program in the heart of one of the most talent-rich areas in the country. You know the opportunity's there in a watered-down ACC. You probably didn't know that all the 'Noles wins have come by more than a touchdown, and their one loss is to a good Wake Forest team. The one caveat is that the 'Noles do have the meat of their schedule still to play.

Overrated: South Florida

The Bulls are 6-1, but have two close wins (Kansas, on a last-second field goal, and UCF in overtime) and have played a watered-down schedule. Four of the five best Big East teams are still to come -- it's entirely possible that South Florida goes, say, 1-4 down the stretch.


Underrated: Boston College

The Eagles are not even in the coaches' poll, yet they are just a three-point loss to Georgia Tech from being undefeated, and have a win over Virginia Tech under their belt. This might just be your ACC champion in six weeks' time.

Overrated: Wake Forest and Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech has Florida State, North Carolina, Miami and Georgia still on deck, and three wins by four points or less, including a 10-7 thriller over Gardner-Webb. Wake Forest is the master at winning games despite being outgained. History shows that teams like that painfully regress to the mean over the long run. The Deacons have losses to Navy and, last week, lost 26-0 at Maryland. They've won twice despite scoring 12 points, and were lucky to beat Mississippi by two.


Underrated: Florida

The one-point loss to Mississippi is a fluke: the Gators would win that game nine out of ten times, and if they had, they would be the No. 2 team in the country right now, at worst. In their last game, they clobbered LSU by 30, the same Tiger team that is favored over preseason No. 1 Georgia this weekend. The Gators have beat everyone else by at least 23 points, and the neutral-siter against Georgia, and a visit to Florida State are their only tussles left with ranked opponents. It could well come down to the Gators, and a one-loss USC, Penn State, Ohio State or Texas for the final national title spot, and, if so, Florida could make a powerful case by knocking off Alabama in the SEC Title Game. Assuming the Tide rolls that far, of course...

Overrated: Alabama

The Tide, in their last two games, beat Kentucky by three and Mississippi by four. This is the No. 2 team in the country? Plus, 'Bama's marquee wins, at Georgia and at Clemson, look nowhere near as good as we thought at the time. Alabama is benefitting from the wrong type of legacy -- they're buoyed because voters remember them being good 15 years ago, too far in the past for the recruits on today's team to have been swayed.

Big 10:

Underrated: Northwestern

The Wildcats have actually been decent in recent memory, and have wins over Duke, Iowa and Purdue. Their only ranked opponents left are Minnesota and Ohio State, so a ten-win season isn't crazy.

Overrated: Minnesota

This team went 1-11 last year, and while they don't have much left on their schedule either, they haven't played anyone of note. Their non-conference schedule? Northern Illinois (four-point win), Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic. Their Big Ten wins? Indiana and Illinois. Stanford could well be 6-1 against that slate, and the Cardinal, like the Gophers, are not a top-25 team.


Underrated: Oregon

The losses are to Boise State and USC. There's no shame in either of those, and it's quite possible Oregon ends up a top-15 team, with those two squads finishing in the top 10. How are the Ducks not ranked? Plus, as the quarterback situation stabilizes, Oregon should only get better. The Cal-Oregon game should be for second in the Pac-10, as we thought heading into the season.

Overrated: Arizona. Five wins already and WSU is still to come, so the Wildcats will make a bowl for the first time in a long time. But losses to Stanford and New Mexico are nothing special, and they've played no games against current top-25 teams. Plus, the Oregon schools and a desperate Arizona State are still on deck, and I see the 'Cats going 2-3 down the stretch for a 5-4 conference finish.  That's about fifth in the conference for a team some are considering second to USC.

Underrated: Arizona State. Both Washington schools are still to come. Losses include Georgia, USC and Cal. Maybe there's a top-25 team in the Devils waiting to bust out with a 5-0 finish?

Overrated: The league's bowl picture. At first glance, you'd think this would be a perfect-storm scenario for eight bowl teams, with the Washington schools absorbing all the losses and no real powerhouse other than USC to steal too many wins. And, indeed, it is mathematically possible that everyone but USC qualifies for a bowl. However, my read of the schedule says that Stanford is most likely to land on five wins, UCLA is most likely to land on five wins and ASU is most likely to land on five wins. That would leave just five Pac-10 bowl teams, a knockout punch for a league with just one top-25 team.

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

Last week:  Texas and Ohio State won big, as expected, but TCU's upset of BYU spoiled a perfect week. Still, at 14-7 against the spread now, we're approaching statistical significance here. Anybody want to bankroll me the rest of the way?
2-1 straight-up, 2-1 against the spread.

14-7 against the spread, 16-5 straight-up.

Oklahoma State (+12) at Texas
When's the last top-10 team that was a double-digit underdog? Oklahoma State's rush-first attack is a bad match against a Texas defense that gets weaker the further you move from the line of scrimmage, but their defense is better than in recent years, and I'm still not sold on Texas. It wouldn't shock me to see the Pokes win outright, and when that's the case and the line's double digits, the pick is near-automatic.
Texas 38, Oklahoma State 31

Georgia (+1.5) at LSU
Georgia can't score, but they have a better defense, better yardage statistics this season, better quarterback play, didn't get clobbered by Florida, and have the best player on the field in Knowshon Moreno.
Georgia 17, LSU 13

Penn State (-2.5) at Ohio State
Jim Tressel does a great job of winning close games and winning the games he should. Ohio State, however, is known to get clobbered by top-five teams (USC, Florida and LSU) and this one will be in that mold. PSU's defense has always been stout, and now that they have the offense to go with it. (Or, if you're a logic-chain person: Penn State clobbered Oregon State, who beat USC, who clobbered Ohio State.) The Lions make their claim for a national title berth.
Penn State 31, Ohio State 13 

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