You heard it here first, but I think the biggest under-the-radar winner from all the fallout is USC. Think about it: Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Cal, USC and Oregon have all lost and there's still a week of September to go. If the Trojans win out, they figure to be the first one-loss team in line at worst, and could supplant an undefeated Boise State (or, less likely, Cincinnati). Plus, Tim Tebow went down in time for LSU and Sam Bradford is likely coming back in time for Texas. This is increasingly looking like another year where an early loss might be good enough.
By similar logic, I'm also more bullish on Ohio State than conventional wisdom would dictate, especially with Penn State scoring all of a field goal in the last 57 minutes of their home loss to Iowa, and the Big Ten generally imploding. If the Buckeyes aren't touchdown-plus favorites the rest of the way, I'll be surprised.
For this week's Sweep, we're giving you a snapshot of each ranked team. Where are they strongest? Where are they weakest? Any funny anecdotes? Any good names to drop at cocktail parties, all the better to impress your coworkers? Here goes…
2009 Week 4 Top 25
1. Texas (0)
With Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford injured and Jahvid Best and the Bears imploding to Oregon, Colt McCoy's shot at a Heisman and (following in Vince Young's footsteps) a national title are only growing by the week. Red River shootout is Oct. 17 and the trip to Stillwater is Halloween. One potential weakness might be the D line: only one of the four starters is a returner; 15 of the remaining 18 starters are.
2. Florida (0)
You know Tebow's injured, though he could be healthy after this bye week. You didn't know the Gators duck Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn in their SEC West rotation, get Florida State at home and LSU after a bye. Oh, and quite literally every starter from last year's national title D returns. Jeff Demps has to step up and start breaking plays like Chris Owusu does for Stanford if the Gators are going to make a run though – right now, they're missing that someone who can score whenever he touches the ball.
3. Alabama (+2)
The Tide have clobbered all comers, including Virginia Tech and Arkansas. They duck Florida and Georgia from the SEC East, and while they have yet to play a true road game, Kentucky, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Auburn is a pretty friendly away slate. This is looking like a repeat of last year, where the Tide cruise through the regular season undefeated behind QB Greg McElroy and WR Julio Jones. Bama can only hope the SEC Title Game and bowl game go better than 2008's did though.
4. USC (+3)
The quarterbacking issues are well-documented, but overblown in my opinion: Aaron Corp was the backup for a reason, and quarterbacking should pick up considerably once Matt Barkley returns. (Not to mention possible No. 1 overall draft pick Taylor Mays missed the Washington game as well.) Replacing all three of last year's linebackers means the USC front seven isn't as sharp as usual, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Trojans' demise, which have been coming for five years now, appear premature.
5. Boise State (+1)
The Oregon win looks a lot better now than it did last Friday. The rest of a schedule is an absolute yawn though, so I don't think the Broncos deserve a BCS berth if they win out. Only one D lineman returns from last year and there are no senior starters. You won't know it from their soon-to-be 12-0 record, but the Broncos aren't that good.
6. TCU (+3)
Defense, defense, defense. Rushing D is the stat that best correlates with winning a national title (second-best: yards per pass attempt) and the Frogs are merciless on the ground, as Cardinal fans likely remember from years past. TCU also finished second nationally to USC in pass efficiency defense last year. Most of the Frogs' tougher games are in October, so if they keep winning these next few weeks and latest victim Clemson ends up making the ACC Title Game, watch out national title.
7. LSU (+3)
LSU needed a last-minute goal-line stand to hold off Mississippi State. A sign of weakness or the unexpectedly close game seemingly every national title contender must survive? With Georgia and Florida the next two teams on the schedule, we'll find out soon enough. While the Tigers are strong everywhere and a true under-the-radar top-five team on talent, their front seven is their weakest link.
8. Ohio State (+4)
Jim Tressel coaches like Woody Hayes. Terrelle Pryor plays like Terrelle Pryor. I don't see this ending well. Won't matter: five senior starters on D and a solid running game will be more than enough in a watered-down Big 10.
9. Oklahoma (+4)
Yeah, Sam Bradford has been out. The bigger issue is that four of the front five are new and a defense that returns nine hasn't been otherworldly. Then again, with Miami and Texas in the next three weeks and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the final three weeks, the Sooners just have to take care of business, and they could find themselves like USC or Ohio State. They'll have to root for BYU though. Huge dropoff after the Sooners in the poll…
10. Penn State (-7)
Joe Patern has lost his "O," a function of letting son Jay Patern coach the quarterbacks all these years. Indeed, Daryll Clark looks like the next Anthony Morelli, but it's not just the QB -- an offensive line, receiving corps and a secondary that all appeared highly questionable preseason were indeed exposed by the Hawkeyes.
11. Ole Miss (-7)
Guess QB Jevan Snead isn't the darkhorse Heisman contender everyone made him out to be, because once South Carolina sold out to stop RB Dexter McCluster last Thursday, forget it. I still think the Rebels are a pretty good team, and with Florida and Georgia off the schedule and Alabama and LSU at home, the SEC West title still runs through Oxford. Alabama visits next weekend: can you say huge?
12. Virginia Tech (+5)
Ranked here as much by default as anything. We all wrote VT off after getting outgained by Alabama 3:1, but Florida State looks mortal and the Hokies squeaked by Nebraska and absolutely laid it to Miami. This squad won't finish in the top-five, not with an offensive line that hasn't cracked four yards per carry in the last three seasons, but the ACC Title is wholly in reach.
13. Iowa (+13)
Penn State might not be that good, and ditto that with Arizona, but the Hawkeyes scored nearly as many defensive points in Happy Valley (nine) as they allowed (10, the touchdown on a bomb the first play from scrimmage). After resting with Arkansas State this week, the Hawkeyes will face the Big Ten's best offense next week: Michigan. The Hawkeyes are questionable at the offensive skill positions, but their O line and back seven might be the class of the league.
14. South Florida (+12)
Here's sleeper pick No. 1 for a BCS buster. After seeing the Bulls shut down Florida State, I think the defensive line is the best in the country. It's led by end George Selvie, who recorded 31.5 tackles for loss two seasons ago, one off the NCAA record. The Bulls won in Tallahassee, and fellow BCS buster Cincinnati, West Virginia, Louisville and Miami all have to come to Tampa. So potential wins over Florida State, Miami, Cincinnati, West Virginia – if the Bulls can run the gauntlet, sans injured quarterback Matt Groethe no less, there's no way they're not in the National Title Game.
15. Houston (+11)
Wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are nice, but I don't see the Cougars making it through the season unscathed. Conference USA co-favorites UTEP and Tulsa both host Houston, UTEP this week in a potential letdown game for the Cougars, and I'm simply not buying the defense. Think a Mike Leach squad: this team can pass for 400 yards a game, but the defense is quite literally one of the 25 worst in the nation. Still, until proven otherwise, the Cougars get the benefit of the doubt.
16. California (-8)
I've pored over the box score and it was no fluke: Team Tedford got thoroughly demolished by Oregon in every phase of the game. I love that the one year USC looks weak, the rest of the league implodes: Oregon loses its best player for going postal Week One, Cal comes out on the wrong end of 42-3, and Oregon State does its traditional early-season thing. I urge you all to root for the Weenies this weekend to keep the chaos churning atop the Pac-10 standings. I don't want to jinx anything, but if the winner of this league is coming out with three conference losses and our Card are favored to go to 3-0 after this weekend, it could start to smell rosy soon enough.
17. Miami (-3)
Pat Forde voted the Hurricanes No. 1 in the country. The next week they lose 31-7 in Blacksburg. Love that too. If the ‘Canes can rebound against OU all is forgiven, but Jacory Harris is a guy whose bark is worse than his bite right now. He's got all the athleticism and potential in the world, but accuracy and decision making win more football games and right now neither of those are where they need to be.
18. Notre Dame (-7)
Michael Floyd, Team MVP, is done for the season, and the DTs stink, meaning teams can run right down the Irish's throat. Michigan and Michigan State both did it, and Stanford's power rushing game is better than either of theirs – I wouldn't be surprised if Cardinal tailbacks combined for 250 on the Irish. Still, 9-3 is reasonable – give the Irish a loss to USC, and one to either Stanford or Pittsburgh, but Notre Dame is winning the rest against a decidedly mediocre schedule.
20. BYU (-4)
The win over Oklahoma is looking like a fluke and the home loss to Florida State is looking increasingly ugly. If you want some BCS-busting Cougars, head south to Houston instead.
21. Pittsburgh (-2)
A normally stout defense is allowing 418 yards per game, including 535 last week to North Carolina State – the same NC State that won its season opener by all of 7-3. Allowing 27 to Buffalo is also a bad omen, but the Big East is wide-open and Pitt could win it, so we're keeping them here to hedge our Cincinnati and South Florida bets.
22. Oklahoma State (-2)
Bye this week, then Texas A&M, Missouri, Baylor and Texas in October will tell if the Pokes are for real. Mike Gundy has always played Oklahoma well, so if the Bedlam Game is for the Big 12 South title, watch out. The key for the Fightin' Pickens then is to just beat Texas and stay within a game of Oklahoma. Easier said than done though.
23. Wisconsin (0)
With defenses across the Big 10 and the nation as a whole getting smaller and faster to fight the spread, traditional run it down your throat teams like Wisconsin might experience a bit of a resurgence. The Badgers have won each of their games against DI competition by a score or less, so after Purdue this week, Ohio State and Iowa the next two games will represent the real test. A split would be a victory, and with Penn State and Illinois off the Big 10 schedule, 11-1 isn't out of the realm of possibility should that split come to be.
24. Georgia Tech (+1)
Paul Johnson is a truly exceptional coach – when he has greater or equal talent than his opponent. So Tech will win virtually all of its games it's supposed to, many by a field goal or last-minute stand on the strength of a great D, as it showed against Clemson and North Carolina. But when a Miami or Florida State comes to town – watch out. Tech simply doesn't have the athletes to keep up with elite teams, and with quarterback Jonathan Dwyer quite possibly the BCS leagues' worst starter, the results can often get ugly. So Tech will win no fewer than nine and no more than ten: this team has less variance than any in the nation. (Did you know: Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium is the nation's oldest, built in 1913.)
25. Michigan (-2)
Having seen a national title, Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Steve Hutchinson, Mario Manningham, David Terrell, Steve Breaston and Mike Hart in person, I don't say this lightly: this year's offense is right up there with the best in Michigan's history, whether you're grading by statistics, performance in the clutch or your eyeballs. Seeing as Jason Forcier is a true freshman, that's an enormous compliment to Rich Rodriguez and his staff. The flip side, alas, is that Michigan's defense is right up there with the worst in Michigan's history – the Wolverines are starting two walk-ons and quite literally the worst player on last year's defense is the third-best on this year's. So expect a lot of shootouts, .500 ball the rest of the way, and an Alamo Bowl or whatever 8-4 gets you.
26 (why not?). Florida State (-11)
Seminoles already have two losses, and still have to go to Clemson, North Carolina and Florida. The offensive line is great, but unimaginative playcalling right from the Jeff Bowden era handcuffed the ‘Noles against South Florida (and nearly did against Jacksonville State). To be fair, Florida State lacks a true running back, and knowing how I feel about Clemson in the clutch, the ACC Atlantic is still the ‘Noles' to lose.
Just missed: Florida State, Nebraska, Georgia
Dropped: Georgia (one-man team: AJ Green), Utah, Florida State
Added: Iowa, Houston, South Florida
Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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