On the rise:
Michigan - I have to give these guys some credit for proving me wrong. Before the season, I was livid that they were in the top 15 following a 7-5 season. However, they have come out this year and proven themselves. Also, in their domination of Notre Dame last week, Chad Henne slightly disproved my "Michigan QBs are always overrated, while their RBs are always underrated" theory. Still, I think that Mike Hart is a heck of a back, and that Henne will fold at some time during the year. Thus far, Michigan has been impressive, though, but I still don't think that they have what it takes for a national title run.
West Virginia - Steve Slaton = awesome. I've been a long-time critic of the Big East's automatic BCS bid, but West Virginia looks like they are going to earn every bit of it this year. Louisville has looked strong as well, especially considering the way that their depth has stepped up, but I think that they will miss Bush sometime during the year. With the good coaching of Rich Rodriguez and the highlight reel that is Slaton, the Mountaineers look poised to go far and perhaps have a shot at the NC. That's kind of a scary thought, because there's no telling what kind of uber-riot would follow a WVU national championship.
Iowa - The Hawkeyes are rapidly becoming my second-favorite team, partly because I consider them the Texas Tech of the Big Ten. Drew Tate is a heck of a quarterback, and their entire team seems to play with heart and never quit. Also, their defense proved that they had what it takes to win a game when it was on their shoulders against Syracuse in Tate's absence. If anyone has a chance to upset Ohio State and Michigan, it's Iowa. The Hawkeyes are my dark horse national championship contenders, and have been since before the season began.
TCU - This hurts for me to write, but TCU is better than we all thought, and deserves some national respect. Sure, we had a poor effort by our offense, but they capitalized on our struggles and beat us fair and square. While their offense was not that impressive, maybe it doesn't have to be for TCU to have a great season. The Frogs appear to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the rest of the Mountain West Conference, and lately, have been better than much of the Big 12 teams. Frankly, I will be surprised if TCU does not end up in a BCS game.
Florida - Congrats to Chris Leak for playing to his potential. Many people have tried to turn him into the poster boy for underachievement, but I have always thought that he has what it takes to lead Florida to greatness. (Texas A&M University is currently defending the underachievement crown, by the way.) The Gators have about the toughest road possible to the National Championship, though. I doubt Florida makes it that far, but BCS is a very real possibility with the way that Leak and his supporting cast have looked so far this season.
Missouri - I thought Chase Daniel was going to be a good player. I just didn't think that he would be this good this soon. The Tigers look like they will give Nebraska a run for their money for the Big 12 North title. Tony Temple is becoming a very dangerous back as a complement to Daniel and his scrambling ability. Missouri also gets to avoid Texas this year, which should help their chances. I know that I, for one, am very glad that our Red Raiders play Missouri at home. The Tigers will be our toughest home game besides the one against Texas.
On the decline:
Colorado - Oh, is this entire program a disaster. The Buffaloes hired Dan Hawkins to clean up the program and restore them to contender status. Instead, it looks like they are getting worse. The offense is inept, the fanbase is too weak to offer support for the program, and the talent isn't producing at all. On top of that, the students are paying way too much for their public education. Okay, so that's unrelated, but seriously, $22k? There is getting to be more and more truth to that video that is circulating about Colorado and the death of their program with each week.
Oklahoma - Sooners argue that they should be 3-0 because of a blown call on the onside kick. Boo hoo. I didn't hear them complaining on their gift of a pivotal non-fumble late in the game against UAB. The fact is, their first two wins were unimpressive, and they didn't get it done against Oregon, blown call or not. Their supposedly great defense has looked very vulnerable in all three games this season, and Thompson is a mediocre QB behind a porous O-line. Still, Adrian Peterson is really, really good. He is their team, as they're even using him on kickoffs now. Oklahoma is not playing like a #16 team, and is rapidly losing powerhouse status. Plus, they still have the whiniest fans in football.
N.C. State - What was once a powerful program has turned into somewhat of a bottom-dweller in the ACC. A quarterback change has been proposed to rectify the situation, but it just seems like a captain's futile effort to save a sinking vessel amidst a mutiny. The Wolfpack's only win of the season came over Division I-AA Appalachian State. Their two losses came against Akron and Southern Miss. Not exactly impressive. I bet they are missing Philip Rivers and T.A. McLendon, and I bet Chuck Amato is putting his resume out about now. With the past few seasons omitted, of course.
Mississippi - Here's another team that is likely reaching back several years to find something good to focus on. Eli Manning appears to be all that they had, as the program has really struggled since he left. A loss to Kentucky likely signifies that another losing season is on the horizon. The poor 'ol Rebs haven't come close to the success of the Manning days, in which they were still getting dominated by Texas Tech. (I had to throw that burn in there.) Barring some other Manning child that no one knows about showing up on the Rebels' roster, it looks like the downward spiral will continue.
Notre Dame - I can't figure these guys out for the life of me. My opinion of them seems to change every week. The Irish began the season looking awfully inept, and I rejoiced as they offered support for my "perpetually overrated" theory. Then, they gave Penn State a thorough beat down, and I began to fear that Notre Dame was for real. Their defense stepped up, and Quinn actually looked like a Heisman candidate. And finally, last week, the Wolverines came to South Bend and won handily as Quinn struggled mightily. One thing hasn't changed, though. Notre Dame still gets more media love than anyone else.
Tennessee - I didn't think they deserved their preseason hype. They opened the season with a win over Cal, who somehow started the season at a grossly overrated #9. I wasn't impressed, and this was exacerbated the following week with their squeaker of a win over Air Force. Then, a real team called the Gators came to play, and barely beat them. However, the Volunteers gave them a heck of game, and finally looked like a solid team. Still, Tennessee hasn't played a road game yet, and if anyone puts pressure on Ainge, he throws an Uncle Rico pass up for grabs. We won't find out what kind of team they are until they travel to Georgia.
Oregon - Sure, they look like a pretty good team right now. However, this seems to happen every year. It goes like this: A Pac-10 team other than USC does fairly well. The media overhypes them in a desperate attempt to make the Pac-10 look like a better conference than it is. They get publicity as the BCS snub, and end up playing the Big 12's third-best team. And then, they lose, and the cycle resumes the following year. Then again, maybe they'll be let in the BCS this year with the new bowl lineup. We'll have to just wait and see which bowl game that Oregon and their weekly hideous uniform experiment ends up playing in.
Texas Tech - It's up in the air where we head following the loss to a talented TCU team. Apparently, we haven't gotten over the road woes yet, which makes the A&M, Iowa State, and Oklahoma games especially scary. Fortunately, we have a tune-up game this week at home against SE Louisiana, and conference play has not started yet. Also, we have witnessed strong performances from both the offense and defense thus far, so if we can work together better as a team, we may still have a great season ahead of us. Keep the faith, Red Raider fans.
(Questions, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be directed to Trent within the forums or through email at email@example.com