Thursday, July 26

My Preseason Top 25, plus a few

1. LSU
At the end of last season, there was some hypothesizing about whether LSU would defeat Florida in a rematch, and whether they were playing like the #1 team in the nation. I personally had them below both Florida and Ohio State, but the point remains that they were an elite team who returns most of their starting cast. Matt Flynn won't replace Jamarcus Russell, but he can be a solid quarterback. Early Doucet should fill in nicely as the go-to receiver, a mere 6 catches from being #1 on the team last season. The primary concern seems to be at safety, where LaRon Landry will be replaced by Craig Steltz who has significant experience, but Jessie Daniels' replacement is more questionable. The Tigers however have been one of the top 5-10 teams against the pass pretty much each of the last five seasons, and they have two outstanding cornerbacks who form the toughest coverage duo in the nation. The schedule features games against Va Tech, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, and possibly the SEC Championship... fortunately, the first four of those are all home games. While that part of the schedule is brutal, there are also a lot of creampuffs. South Carolina and Alabama could be sleepers, or could be overhyped. In the event that they are in the BCS championship game, this is a Sugar Bowl year, so it would essentially be a home game.
Keys to Victory:
* Gain 100 yards rushing. In two losses (Auburn, Florida) and one close win (Mississippi) in 2006, the Tigers failed to top 100 yards on the ground. The rest of their games seemed a cakewalk in comparison.
* Keep the pass attempts down. Against Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi, LSU attempted over 35 passes. (although, against Tennessee they also ran the ball 45 times) Typically LSU runs 55-60% of the time, but in three of those games they passed more often than they ran. Those were all losses or close games.

2. USC
You know it's going to be a good year for the Trojans when their major concern is at wide receiver... because, really, does anybody out there think USC isn't going to wind up with one of the best WR corps in the NCAA? The defense returns ten starters from a unit that finished just outside the top 10 ppg last season, so expect a stout defensive team. Going unbeaten will depend upon strong production from the RB position, as defenses won't be focusing on Jarrett and Smith, and upon Booty making better decisions. In 2006, the Trojans finished just +4 in turnovers, compared to an average of +19 over 2001-2005. While USC's schedule is overall one of the most difficult, they play a lot of good to mediocre teams - nobody who stands out as particularly menacing, but only Idaho and Stanford are really bad - so they really have a strong chance of finishing 12-0 with a NC game berth.
Keys to Victory:
* Gain 100 yards rushing. In two losses (Oregon State, UCLA) and their bowl game which was close for 3 quarters, USC failed to gain 100 yards rushing.
* Win the turnover battle. USC has always seemed to have more of an opportunistic than a 3-and-out defense. I can remember games like Cal 2004, when USC was badly outgained but +4 or better in turnovers to win. Whereas against Texas, USC left 6-14 points on the field due to two critical turnovers and was -1 for the game. When USC lost to Oregon State last year, they were -4 TO. Against UCLA they were even. The games they had a positive turnover differential - Arkansas, Nebraska, Stanford, Cal, and Michigan - they won by comfortable margins every time.

3. Texas
Texas is two players away from being the #1 team in the nation - a good cornerback, and another good cornerback. Unfortunately, Texas may be relying on a freshman and a sophomore to grow up fast, as their CB heirs from last season performed atrociously. Finishing #99 in passing ypg allowed last season, their secondary was really middle of the pack in terms of per play averages - the defensive line shut down rushing offenses to the extent that teams would just abandon the ground game - but mediocre doesn't lead to a national title. The defensive line is beastly, the linebackers could have a legit 6-man rotation, and the safeties should be very strong. Offensively, Colt McCoy is a great QB, Jamaal Charles could blossom into a premiere RB as he is finally showcased this year, and they have a trio of proven WRs lead by Limas Sweed. Offensive line is the only question on this side of the ball, making Texas yet another team who should be able to solve one of their biggest questions given the way Texas recruits that position. The schedule is embarrassingly easy, with OU, Nebraska, and the possible conference championship game being the only real worries.
Keys to Victory:
* Hold the opposition under 250 yards passing. In the 2006 season, 250+ yards passing against Texas meant 20+ points. Anything less than 250, and your offense was looking at 14 points or less. The more things teams have to try to make happen against last year's #2 rushing defense, the better things will go for the Longhorns.
* Win the turnover battle. Texas lost the turnover battle four times last season - Ohio State (-3. loss), Rice (-1, win), Texas Tech (-2, comeback win), and Texas A&M (-3, loss). Turnovers were the key to their victory over Oklahoma (+5).

4. Michigan
The Wolverines are in a similar position to Texas offensively. They have a strong QB, and a senior leader at that. Hart will be one of the nation's top RBs. Manningham and Arrington should be a great duo of WRs. Unfortunately, their defense which finished #8 in scoring last season has lost most of their starters - and arguably the five best defensive players they had. Harris had twice as many tackles as any other Wolverine last season; he along with Burgess, Branch, Hall, and Woodley will be almost impossible to replace. Nonetheless, the offense will be extremely potent, and a rush-heavy philosophy will be just what a potentially depleted defense needs to gel together. Despite a likely fall, Michigan should be one of the top 25 defensive teams in the country without a doubt, which will allow the offense to carry them. September provides three challenging but very winnable home games, then it's smooth sailing until a trip to Wisconsin and a visit from Ohio State in November.
Keys to Victory:
* Protect Henne. Michigan gave up 24 sacks total last season. 10 of those came in losses to Ohio State and USC.
* Shore up the secondary. In losses to OSU and USC, Michigan gave up over 300 yards passing, close to 400 against USC - also, the only two times all season the Wolverines surrendered over 30 points in a game. Only two other teams topped 250 yds passing against UM - one of whom was Ball State who gave the Wolverines a surprisingly good game.

5. Louisville
Last season, Louisville suffered great misfortune to not wind up unbeaten and in the BCS title game. They lost star RB Michael Bush to injury, and even then it was only a re-kicked FG by Rutgers that gave them their sole loss. Essentially the entire offense returns, and Bush's replacement(s) at RB has almost an entire season's worth of experience. The defense finished #19 in ppg allowed last season, but the secondary was so suspect that they have moved two WRs to play both safety spots! While defensive improvement is a possibility, this unit will probably not mature into one of the top ten squads that seems to be a necessity for winning a national title... although, with their Big East schedule, an unbeaten season is certainly a possibility. With Rutgers at home, Louisville's main concern will be a road game against West Virginia.
Keys to Victory:
* Protect Brohm. Only once last season did Louisville allow more than two sacks. That was five, in their sole loss to Rutgers.
* Be efficient. The loss to Rutgers was the only game last season in which Louisville completed under 50% of their passes. In three games where the offense failed to score 30, the Cardinals failed to top 200 yards passing (okay, 203 against Syracuse but if sacks counted against that it'd be under 200) and in the other poor offensive outing, against Cincinnati, they had their worst net turnover game of the season at -2.

6. Virginia Tech
Last season the Hokies finished with the #1 scoring defense in the nation, and there's no reason to think they won't at least be in the top ten in 2007. (I have them fighting for #2 toughest defensive unit along with USC) The group is very experienced as well with eight returning starters including seven seniors. An equal number of starters return on offense, and the backfield and receiving corps are both experienced as well. The major concern is the play of Sean Glennon, who last season threw as many INTs as TDs (11). Indeed, it was turnovers that cost them a bowl loss to Georgia, as the defense gave up a mere 200 yards total in that game. Establishing Ore's running game may be the key to their season, as in each of their three losses last season the Hokies finished with under 50 yards rushing. On the schedule, Boston College, Miami, and Florida State are all home games, and they do not face Wake Forest. However, they do travel to LSU.
Keys to Victory:
* Break 50 yards rushing. It sounds so easy! But they were 0-3 with less than 50 yards on the ground, 10-0 with 50+. Even 53 yards on 40 attempts was good enough for a 17-10 win over Miami, as the power game takes the ball out of Glennon's INT-prone hands as much as anything else.
* Win the turnover battle. Amazingly, VT had just two games in 2006 where they had a negative net TO. Minus 4 in a 22-3 loss to BC, and -3 in a 31-24 loss to Georgia. In their loss to Georgia Tech, they were even in the TO department.

7. West Virginia
Pat White and Steve Slaton are enough to strike fear in the heart of any defense. Adding Noel Devine to the mix? Yikes. The Mounties finished last season tied for the nation's #3 scoring offense along with Louisville, co-best of any BCS-conference team. So why only #7? They were 48th in ppg allowed. West Virginia gave up 44 points in a loss to Louisville and 39 points in a close win over Rutgers - yes, Rutgers scored 39 against them. While the schedule says Louisville is the only team with a good chance of beating them, if the defense does not make drastic improvements they could fall to USF once again or to Rutgers - both road games in 2007, and two run-oriented teams that might have big days against the 3-3-5 stack scheme.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. West Virginia is the type of team to score on nearly every possession while at the same time getting shredded on defense. Having more possessions is crucial to their success or failure. Four times last season, WVU was on the wrong side of the turnover battle - Syracuse (-2, win), Louisville (-2, loss), USF (-2, loss), and Rutgers (-1, 3OT win).
* Break 250 yards rushing. Three times last season, the Mounties were held under 250 yards rushing - actually, under 200 each time. A win over East Carolina where they scored just 27 points, a loss to USF where they scored just 19 points, and a win over Rutgers that went to three overtimes. Offense cannot be blamed for their loss to Louisville, as they gained 540 yards and scored 34 points.

8. Florida
Despite returning just six offensive starters, most of the firepower returns, and Tim Tebow fits more into the mold of an Urban Meyer QB than Chris Leak did anyway. But they'll need to make strong use of Rivals' #1 recruiting class, as the defense loses NINE starters. The unit is littered with freshmen and sophomore starters with little or no game experience, and that's going to haunt them a few times during the season. The cornerbacks are seriously tiny, which means they'll have problems against team with physical WRs like LSU and FSU. Meanwhile the schedule is about as enviable as last season's, with visits from Tennessee and Auburn in September, a trip to LSU and a visit from Georgia in October, and a visit to South Carolina (improved or overhyped?) and a match with Florida State in November. Make it through all that and there's the SEC Championship. Brutal.
Keys to Victory:
* Protect the defense. Only two defensive starters return in 2007. The offense MUST ensure that the opposing team has a long field to work with - say, starting from within their own 35. Last year, Ohio State was in a similar situation defensively, but thanks to an efficient offense their defense ranked far better in points allowed than in yards allowed.
* Fear the sleepers. Florida has lost to South Carolina and Alabama once each in the last two seasons, and only barely squeaked by South Carolina last year. How they play against their former coach's team and against Nick Saban's new team could be the difference between an at-large BCS bid or not needing UT to spell the Outback.

9. Wisconsin
Coming off of consecutive 10-win, bowl win seasons, the Badgers have both confidence and experience. PJ Hill was a breakout freshman who could become the next Ron Dayne. Though Stocco is lost at QB, his replacement (Tyler Donovan) is a senior who comes in with a 63% completion percentage, good enough for what he'll be asked to do with this offense. His protection should be excellent, and the receivers and TEs are solid and experienced. Their top two tacklers are gone, but seven defensive starters return and the only real holes will be at safety. While the opener with Washington State presents an interesting style contrast, it's a home game that they should win and should be unbeaten going into a October trip to Penn State. Unlike 2006, they will play Ohio State this season and it is a road game. The Nov 10 showdown with Michigan could be especially important - the Badgers have two one-loss (1998, 2006) and one two-loss (1999) seasons in the BCS era, and each of those years they have lost to the Wolverines. Without question, this team will live and die by its running game. In 11 of their 12 wins, they gained 99 or more yards rushing, often flirting with or exceeding 200. In a loss to Michigan, they gained a mere 12, and in a fortunate win over Arkansas (outgained and outplayed, but penalties kept Hogs points off the board) they actually had negative 5 net yards rushing.
Keys to Victory:
* Run for 100 yards. In 11 regular season wins, the Badgers averaged 190 rushing ypg. In a loss to Michigan and an offensive stall against Arkansas, they totalled 7. Above all else, they must establish PJ Hill.
* Run for 150 yards. :wink: That's really the key to success for Wisconsin. But for what it's worth, Michigan was the only team to pass for 200 yards against them last season, and that was their only loss.

10. Ohio State
After exploding in mid-2005 and dominating all of 2006, the Buckeye offense is a major question in 2007. So much is gone that they return just 800 yards of rushing, basically 0 yards passing, and about 1000 yards receiving IN TOTAL. To put that in perspective, Antonio Pittman rushed for 1275 yards last season, Ginn and Gonzalez hauled in a little over 1500 yards receiving, and I personally threw for 0 yards at Ohio State. Now while Boeckman or Schoenhoft are better QBs than me, they won't have players who can live up to the roles their starters had last season. It will be up to Chris Wells and the offensive line to grind out enough games for the defense to win. Speaking of defense, the unit that finished #2 in ppg for the regular season does return six starters including a fearsome LB corps and what should be a strong secondary. As long as the offense doesn't give this group a short field to defend, they should be holding most opponents to under 14 points - enough for the ground and kicking games to win it. The schedule is pretty easy until late October through the finale, when the team visits Penn State and Michigan and hosts Wisconsin.
Keys to Victory:
* Keep the score down. It's no secret that Ohio State lost nearly all of their offensive production from 2006. They're not going to beat Michigan 42-39 this year, so they'd better be able to win a lot of games with 21 points.
* Play Tressell-ball. Tressell ball means playing the field position game and not leaving points on the field. Ohio State has made it to two national championships - in 2002, opponents had to go 24 yards to score 1 point against OSU, and in 2006 they had to go 22 yards per point. In 2001, 03, 04, and 05 that average has been between 16 and 18 - ie, the other team was having to go shorter distances to score.

11. Oklahoma
Solid everywhere except QB, as has been the recent tale of the Sooners.
Keys to Victory:
* Be ready in September. The last two seasons, the Sooners have lost seven games total. Five of those came before or including the Red River Shootout the first weekend in October. A lot of these struggles have to do with new quarterbacks and the secondary not being in sync. This year they will have a new QB but an experienced secondary returning four starters.
* No excuses! OU has tried to get their Orange Bowl loss to USC, their 2005 loss to Texas Tech, and their 2006 loss to Oregon thrown out. Maybe they're right, maybe not. But two of those games (you guess which ones) they were winning late in the 4th quarter and let the lead slip away. Win the game now rather than whining later.

12. Arkansas
With the departure of (overrated) Mitch Mustain, the offense will rely entirely on the best RB duo in the nation. Breaking through that 11-15 group will probably require McFadden to really master that Wildcat package.
Keys to Victory
* Don't rack disciprine! Arkansas was one of the most penalized teams in 2006. It cost them their bowl game at least, possibly the LSU game as well.
* You don't have to air it out, but try to be less than pathetic throwing it. Against USC, Arkansas as a team was 16-32 for 157 yards and -5 net turnovers. In a 2OT win over Alabama, they were 7-22 for 97 yards and -2 net TO. 5-20 for 62 yards against LSU, 12-26 for 179 but -2 net TO against Florida, and 15-32 for 136 against Wisconsin. On the season, their three QBs threw 17 interceptions and just 19 touchdowns. Terrible.

13. Florida State
Strong defense, no more Jeff Bowden. The pounding of UCLA in the Emerald Bowl could have been a statement for this season.
Keys to Victory:
* Don't throw into triple coverage. I don't have fancy statistics on this, but my co-bloggers will know what I'm talking about. In games where the Noles surpassed 300 yards passing, they were 3-1. In games where they were held under 150, they were 0-2.
* Less QB draws and Toss Sweeps. Five times last season, FSU failed to break 50 yards rushing. Losses to Boston College, Wake Forest, and Florida, and wins over Miami (1 yard rushing!) and Troy. Scoring 13 points against Miami and 24 against Troy aren't exactly bragable statistics, but the defense was able to bail them out.
* Fire Jeff Bowden. Check.

14. Nebraska
Keller brings a true west coast offense style QB, but the defense lost a lot of talent.
Keys to Victory:
* Rush for 123 yards. That specific, eh? Against USC, Texas, and Oklahoma - three losses - Nebraska failed to reach the century mark on the ground. In a 116 yard performance against Kansas they won in OT, and in a 104 yard performance against Aubun they lost by 3. 123 yards got them a 1 point win over Texas A&M, so I assume it's the magic number.

15. Hawaii
Crazy offense, soft schedule.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. Hawaii was on the minus side of net TOs four times last season, including all three of their losses. They were still able to destroy UNLV thanks to nearly 600 yards total offense.
* Run the ball for 100 yards OR go absolutely crazy passing. In three losses, Hawaii was held to 22, 88, and 103 yards rushing. They did win three games while rushing for under 100 yards - passing for 529, 497, 486 yards in those games.

16. Cal
Longshore's solid, the WRs are great, and Forsett will be a good runningback. Until the defense learns to tackle, they aren't cracking the top 15.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. Cal's another team who seems like they score a lot and get scored on a lot. They were +6 turnovers for the year, but -6 in the three games they lost.
* Tackle, tackle, tackle. Tennessee turned at least two short passes into long touchdowns, as well as breaking off a long TD run. This is a known weakness of Cal's, and it's a weakness that no team in the top ten has.

17. Rutgers
Despite losing Brian Leonard, the offense might be better in 2007 with Teel supposedly having found his passing game. The defense loses five starters though - 3 of their leading 5 tacklers - and you wonder how deep a program like Rutgers is.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. Rutgers was +11 for the season in turnovers, having a negative net in just two games (win over Navy, loss to Cincinnati).
* Don't make the offense win the game. Rutgers scored nearly 30 ppg last season, and was held under 20 only once. But in their two losses, they gave up 30 and 41 points. Ray Rice isn't going to be carrying the team to 35+ points against quality opposition, so the defense needs to just keep the scoring reasonable enough that the offense can win with 24-28 points.

18. Tennessee
Loss of the entire WR corps will put this offense in a shell. QB, RB, and most of the defense are good.
Keys to Victory:
* Open up the passing game. In the 2002 and 2005 seasons, Tennessee's passing totals hovered around 200 ypg, seasons with 5 and 6 losses apiece. They had better results in 2001 and 2006, with about 260 passing ypg.
* Stop the opponent's running game. In three of their four losses, the Vols gave up 231, 259, and 183 yards rushing.

19. Penn State
Strong defense but lacking any offensive punch.
Keys to Victory:
* Allow less than 100 rushing yards. Penn State was 1-4 in games where they allowed over 100 yards rushing (202 by Illinois wtf?) and 8-0 when they didn't.
* Protect the QB. Penn State allowed 23 sacks in 13 games which isn't bad, but 16 of those came in their four losses including 7 vs Michigan.

20. Missouri
If they hadn't choked away their bowl game, they'd be getting more hype. This offense will be terrifying if everybody performs.
Keys to Victory:
* Stop the opponent's ground game. The numbers don't always align, but in four of their five losses they gave up over 180 yards on the ground. The fifth loss (Oregon State, 101 yards rush) should have been a victory were it not for a late-game collapse.
* So on that note, don't sit on a lead with almost an entire quarter to play! Three of their five losses were by 6 points or less, while every victory was by 10 or more. If you're not a clutch team, then you need to blow them out. On the plus side, it would be hard to do any worse in close games... even the law of averages says they should win at least one this season.

21. Auburn
Despite an experienced QB and what should be a solid defense, the rest of the support simply is not there.
Keys to Victory:
* Put up more than token resistance against the run. In Auburn's only two losses of 2006, they gave up 279 and 227 yards rushing. Against Florida they gave up 171 but were +2 turnovers in a game that came down to the final play.
* 100/100? LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Nebraska all held Auburn to under 20 points - games in which the Tigers were 2-2. These were the only four games in which the Tigers did not gain both 100 yards rushing and 100 yards passing.

22. Texas A&M
Hype, hype, hype. The 2006 offense padded their stats with a ridiculously soft noncoference schedule, and the defense couldn't even do that.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle - by a lot. A&M's two biggest victories were against Missouri and Texas, they were +3 TO in both games. +1 and even games couldn't get the job done in their four losses.
* Be two-dimensional. While A&M is going to be a running team, they can't just run the ball. Texas and Oklahoma held A&M to under 100 yards passing, resulting in a loss to the Sooners and a win in which they scored just 4 FGs against the Longhorns. Texas Tech defeated them while holding them to 103 yards passing, and Army nearly beat the Aggies while holding them to 102 yards passing.

23. UCLA
Returning 20 starters is great. Losing five games by double digit margins (six total) and getting blown out of your bowl game isn't. They'll be a better version of themselves - which, aside from one game in November, wasn't that great.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. I know I'm saying this for every team, but check this out: UCLA was 5-2 in games where they had a positive net TO, and 1-4 in games with a negative net TO (the win was 26-16 over Rice, not exactly a great outing).

24. Miami (FL)
By talent, they should probably be higher. But Wright has yet to have a good year at QB and they have been underachieving for several seasons overall.
Keys to Victory:
* Find the passing game. Miami lost five games in which they scored 13 points or less. They passed for no more than 152 yards in any of those games.
* Shut down the pass. Miami has had one of the best pass defenses in the nation for several seasons. But in the only two games where they gave up over 20 points (31 and 30), they surrendered 294 and 195 yards through the air. Only a +4 TO differential held Duke to 15 points despite passing for 284 yards, but that was with essentially the entire Miami team suspended for fighting the week earlier.

25. South Carolina
In 2002, Phil Steele predicted that a previously mediocre Ohio State team would be a dark horse title contender. AND IT HAPPENED. So why shouldn't we trust him about the other USC?
Keys to Victory:
* Pressure the QB. South Carolina sacked the opposition 31 times in 13 games last season. But in four of their five losses, they had just 3 sacks total. This defense doesn't shut offenses down, so getting the drive-stopping play is going to be important.
* Stay two-dimensional! Three times the Cocks rushed for under 100 yards, two of them losses. The other was a 15-0 win over Mississippi State - a game won by the defense.

On the cusp:

Nine offensive starters, a lockdown corner, and Nick Saban. Can that turn around a 6-7 team?
Keys to Victory:
* Open the field with Prothro. Tyrone Prothro, Alabama's key to offensive success in 2005, has finally returned to the lineup. They were 5-0 when he played that season, 5-2 for the rest of the season, and 6-7 last season without him. If he can push the Tide's offensive average over 28 ppg, they will be tough to beat.
* Win the turnover battle. While not a great team either way, Alabama was 0-4 in games where they lost the TO battle, 1-1 when it was even, and 5-2 when they won it (close losses to Arkansas and Tennessee).

Boston College
Lucky wins vs Clemson and BYU, and struggles against CMU, FSU, and Navy. This team could have just as easily been 6-7 last year.
Keys to Victory:
* Hope everything goes their way in the kicking game. BC won games on a missed extra point, a missed FG in OT, and a last minute FG by a walk-on. Instead of 10-3 they easily could have been 8-5.
* Continue to dominate the turnover game. BC was +15 in turnovers last season, but in two of their three losses they were +0 and -1 for the game. TOs played critical roles in their wins over Va Tech, FSU, and Maryland.

They do have one of the nation's strongest RB duos after Arkansas. Harper's play at QB and the emergence of a WR to replace Stuckey will determine whether this team can crack the top 25.
Keys to Victory:
* Hold the opposition under 200 yards passing. They were 1-4 when they didn't, with a lone win over Florida Atlantic.
* Hold the opposition under 20 points. Clemson was held under 20 points just twice last season - 7 in a shutdown by Va Tech (the only game they didn't gain 100 yards rushing), and 12 in a game where lots of drives stalled out for FGs against Maryland. In three of the four games where they gave up over 20 points, the defense allowed over 200 yards rushing or 300 yards passing! Just don't allow any explosions and they should be fine.

When the QBs learn to throw and the WRs learn to catch, this team will be pretty tough. Defensively and at the RB position they are solid.
Keys to Victory:
* Establish the running game. Four times UGA was held under 100 yards last season - a 14 point day against Colorado, a 14 point day (and loss) to Florida, a 15 point day against Georgia Tech, and a bowl win over Va Tech in which the defense set up almost all of the scoring. While they went 3-1 in these games, without absolutely outstanding defensive play it would have been 0-4.
* Improved QB and WR play. Losses to Tennessee and Florida both featured numerous interceptions and low completion percentages.

Annoying to hear about. Blindingly awful unis. If Dixon figures out how to tell which players are his teammates, they could be an 8-9 win team.
Keys to Victory:
* Hold onto the ball. UO threw 18 interceptions last season and finished -10 net turnovers. It won't get much better than 7-6 with that kind of ball control.
* Pay off the officials in close games.
* Blind your opponents with your uniforms. Check.

Oregon State
They return 16 starters (8/8) from a team that won ten games, conference co-champions, beat USC, and won their bowl game last season. However, their three biggest victories were all by a FG or less, so repeating that will be difficult. Replacing Matt Moore will be difficult, too, as Gunderson and Canfield both have inferior stats.
Keys to Victory:
* Protect the QB. 21 of their 35 sacks given up came in their four losses. (another 6 came against USC, a close win)
* Pass efficiently. In their victories over USC, rival Oregon, and bowl foe Missouri, Oregon State completed nearly 2/3 of their passes. This made up for the fact that in two of those games, they didn't break 100 yards rushing. The burden of moving this offense will be on the shoulders of a new QB this year, so he must step up.

South Florida
Last season they beat West Virginia and came up just two points short against Rutgers. They return 16 starters and have a dual-threat QB who has gained experience after starting as a freshman.
Keys to Victory:
* Win the turnover battle. South Florida took a very up and down route to being -4 TOs overall. They lost two very winnable games to Rutgers and Cincinnati by being -5 net TO total. They also upset West Virginia by being +2 net TO.
* The offense must show up! USF averaged 23 ppg last season, and the defense only allowed 22 or more points in three games - all losses. In the three games the offense scored less than 20, though, it was a complete disaster - try 21 points total.

Texas Tech
Harrell may be the most talented QB Mike Leach has ever had, but four new starters on the o-line? One thing's for sure, though... this is a team that will *never* quit! I'm still shocked at what occurred in the Insight Bowl.
Keys to Victory:
* Protect the QB. Amazingly for a pass-happy team, Texas Tech gave up just 19 sacks last season. But every game they gave up more than two sacks in, they either lost or made the biggest comeback in div I history. This season they will have four new starters on the o-line, so that could be a problem.
* Win the turnover battle. TT was 1-3 in games where they had a negative net TO, with that win once again the thriller over Minnesota.

Wake Forest
This team actually allowed more ypg than they gained, but won three games by 3 or less and two more by a TD. The offense stalled out in their losses, and this season the defense returns just five starters.
Keys to Victory:
* Amazingly, Wake Forest was 1-1 in games where they scored 10 points or less, 2-2 when scoring 14 or less, and 3-3 when scoring 20 or less. The defense rose to the occasion when they had to, but WF can't bank on a repeat of that. In four of the five games where they scored under 20 points, they ran for under 100 yards, and in each game where they scored 20 or more points they ran for at least 99 yards.
* On the season, Wake Forest was +13 in turnovers, which directly contributed to their defensive ppg falling from the 23-28 range over 2001-05 down to 15 ppg last season, and yards per point increasing from the 13-17 range up to 21. If Wake even wants to think of a 9-win season, they'll probably need to be +10 TO for the year because their talent will not let them compete with a lot of the teams they face otherwise.

Thursday, July 19

2007 Ohio State Buckeyes Preview


Troy Smith may have been picked in the 5th round of the NFL draft by the Ravens (pretty low for a quarterback that led their team to the National Championship game), but what he left behind is so much more of a question. Between the three quarterbacks on the depth chart, none of them have starting experience. Todd Boeckman is currently listed as starter, but pretty much this position is wide open. None of the quarterbacks showed anything exceptional during the spring game, and it will only be due to the weak early schedule that whomever finally wins the starter spot will he gain the necessary experience to lead the team to a decent season.

Rob Schoenhoft is a promising sophomore who is more likely to battle for the starter spot than Anthony Henton, but truthfully the Buckeyes are banking on their current recruiting prospect in 2008 (Terrell Pryor from nearby Pennsylvania) to be the next star quarterback. This year the quarterback position is going to be the weakest link to the offense, and due to the lack of experience a good defense can rattle up the offense.


Chris "Beanie" Wells had a breakout season in 2006 working as Antonio Pittman's sidekick. Is the hype really true? Chris is much bigger than Pittman, with less acceleration but still a fast top speed to outrun most linebackers. He showed even as a true freshman that he will be the power player on the Buckeye's offense.

What's lacking at this position is depth. Maurice Wells is a speed back, and was mostly used as a receiving back last year. He has game experience, but doesn't have the power to go up the middle. And considering the fact that OSU doesn't stretch the field horizontally for their running as much (as say, Minnesota?) with zone blocking, Mo Wells will continue to be used for backup purposes. And then, will Brandon Saine really live up to the hype? A highly recruited freshman from Piqua, Ohio, and though he was never hyped as the next Chris Wells there's still a high expectation for him to take over as Beanie's Backup.

Wide Receivers:

Wow. When you lose both Ted Ginn (a fast, game changing receiver) and Anthony Gonzalez (speedy slot/possession receiver) to the NFL (both of them first round) you know that the current batch has big shoes to fill. Nobody will forget Gonzalez running a cross pattern, catching a bad pass from Smith and running up the sideline against Texas to get a crucial first down in the second half. Nobody will forget the NC opening kickoff, where Ginn just blasted through the Florida special teams.

Which brings us to this year's batch: Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and Ray Small. Ray (the fastest of the bunch) could become the next Ted Ginn, with the potential to break through slow secondaries to become a solid deep threat (if Boeckman or Schoenhoft, whomever starts, can throw it to him). Both Robiskie and Hartline played minor roles last year, but now they will be asked to step up. We will have to see if either of them have the hands of Gonzales - without a solid hand it's more likely the opposing secondaries will play their safeties on the run and leave the WRs in single coverage.

Tight Ends:

Let's just say that I don't have much to say about the OSU tight ends, because frankly they're glorified OL in the OSU playbook. There hasn't been a big play made by the tight ends since... well, the dropped touchdown in 2005.

Offensive Line:

This is the bedrock of this year's offense. Kirk Barton, Steve Rehring, and Alex Boone return, likely to shore up the LT, LG, and RT positions. Meaning, it's likely that Beanie will be running left a lot. And with solid Boone on the left side, the QB should have their backside well protected. The weakness here will be whether the center (all three are undersized) will be able to keep the big DT's from bowling them over off the snap.

However, you have to look at the numbers last year to see how well the coaches have done. Troy Smith attempted almost 100 more passes last year and was sacked only 4 more times than the year prior. This is a very solid O-line, probably one of the top 10 in the country with size and experience.

Offensive Outlook:

The Buckeyes are going to go back to their power running game. With the receivers untested, their quarterbacks with no playing experience, and a solid offensive line, it points back to a Woody Hayes type of football. But there is a star waiting to be born - can Ray Small be that serious deep threat? I believe that if the QB-WR can connect downfield it will open things up for Beanie up the middle, and there is enough talent for OSU to be the second best offense in the Big 10 straight out of the gate, and the best if they get the performances they need from the WRs.

Defensive Line:

Last year, they had Patterson and Pitcock down the middle, and Richardson and Gholston rushing the outside. With three of the four leaving for the big league, Gholston remains. They did, however leave behind some potentially great tackles in Worthington and Denlinger. They're a little undersized (you'd want them to be close to 300) and they had a poor showing in the Scarlet and Gray game. Against big offensive lines they will have some trouble, but we will have to see how well they are able to step up to the plate.


What else can you say when this crew was so maligned early last year? James Laurinitis came through HUGE last year, and is back anchoring a solid group of linebackers. Can Laurinitis continue the trend from last year? Will Larry Grant and Marcus Freeman keep things closed on the outside? I feel that of all the positions in the front seven, OSU has nothing to worry about at linebacker. They're fast enough to cover good tight ends, and Laurinitis has the ability to become as good as AJ Hawk. I know. That's scary.

Defensive Backs:

Malcolm Jenkins is probably the nations best shut-down cornerback. Yes, maybe I'm a little biased, and no, he didn't make many big interceptions, but rarely did you see anyone blazing past him in single coverage. Jamario O'Neal had playing time at safety, but missed some seriously important plays. On the other hand, OSU came through with some speedy defensive backs through recruiting this year, and so we'll have to see whether they come through and fight for starting positions.

Defensive Outlook:

They're solid at linebacker, and questions pretty much everywhere else. On the other hand, there is enough experience at each critical position and the schedule weak enough on the front end that they have the opportunity to meld before the important Wisconsin and Michigan games. Gholston, Laurinitis, Freeman, and Jenkins are crucial to making this defense be the best. They MUST step up their leadership and take the unexperienced through the process. If they are able to meld by the time Wisconsin comes to town, they have a good chance to be an 8-10 win team by postseason.

Special Teams:

Okay. Aaron Pettrey is no Mike Nugent, but the kid can kick it out of the end zone on the kickoff. AJ Trapasso is going to be okay as a punter. But the real questions here will be: who will take over the return jobs from Ginn and Gonzales? This is where I think Ray Small has the chance to shine. I put my money on him being named returner by the start of the season, and we'll get to see whether his speed can top Ginn.

Final Verdict:

Without a solid leader at quarterback, a lot more is riding on Chris Wells. With this in mind we're likely to see Tressel rely on Woody-ball until he gets to see whether the receivers will be able to step up their play. The defense has a lot less questions, however, with a solid core of them holding down the fort. In direct comparison to the competition in the Big 10, the only two questions all season will be Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which come in crucial November. Unfortunately we will never truly know whether they are a great team until then.

Wednesday, July 18

And One? Rumor of the BCS adding an extra game.

Earlier this week, the NY Post reported that the BCS would be adopting the oft-discussed "+1" format starting in 2011. There's three likely ways this could be implemented:
1) Keep everything exactly the way it is now. Then have the new #1 and #2 teams play an extra game as the true championship.
2) Change the BCS structure so that the #1 and #4 teams play in one bowl and the #2 and #3 teams play in another. Winners advance to the championship... ie, a 4-team playoff inserted into the BCS structure.
3) Remove all seed matchups in the first round of the BCS - ie, all teams qaulifying for the BCS play according to conference tie-ins and whatnot. When that's all over, #1 plays #2.

I think it's fairly obvious that option #2 gives us the closest thing to what we want, #1 would be just about as good, and #3 has the potential to improve the system but by the least amount.

Nonetheless, what are we likely looking at if each of these systems were implemented?

1) The season ended with Tennessee #1 and Ohio State #2. Ohio State jumped from #4 to #2 by defeating Texas A&M as previous #2 Florida State lost to Tennessee, previous #3 Kansas State was upset by Purdue, and previous #5 UCLA lost to Wisconsin. So Ohio State would play against Tennessee for the national title. My pick: Ohio State
Anyone left out?
Wisconsin would certainly feel slighted, as they finished 11-1 with a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA, the nation's #1 defense, and probably the nation's top RB. Arizona would also feel left out with an impressive 12-1 record, albeit against a rather weak schedule. The BCS would have gotten lucky that Kansas State lost (otherwise, K-State and Ohio State would both have legit arguments to be the #2 team), but by forcing most would-be contenders to face a top 10 opponent before the 1vs2 game, the system is designed to give itself a good chance at breaks like that.

2) The seedings are #1 Tennessee vs #4 Ohio State, #2 Florida State vs #3 Kansas State. My picks: upset city. Ohio State beats Tennessee, Kansas State beats Florida State, and Ohio State defeats Kansas State.

Anyone left out?
Obviously, Arizona, UCLA, and Wisconsin would feel left out going into the playoff, and UA and UW would still feel that way after the playoff. I feel like Arizona has less of an argument, as with their weak schedule they needed to defeat UCLA to prove themselves amongst the elite contenders. UCLA would have had more of an argument going in, as they did defeat Arizona and played two 9-win teams, but arguments can also be made against such a terrible defensive team, and at the end of the bowls they couldn't complain as they were dealt a second loss. Wisconsin would have a legitimate gripe. I'll note that this is more the fault of the Big Ten than the "BCS +1 Playoff," since if Wisconsin and Ohio State had played each other, the winner would have been seeded #4 if not higher.

3) As always for this system, it would come down to the first round BCS matchups. I think we're looking at a strong possibility of Tennessee being unbeaten, along with Ohio State and a couple other teams having one loss. Wisconsin and UCLA still would have faced in the Rose Bowl, as Big Ten and Pac 10 conference champions. Obviously, it all comes down to what FSU does in their bowl game.

Anybody left out?
In all likelihood, we'd have 2 to 4 teams with 1 loss feeling very slighted.

1) The season ended with Florida State #1 and Nerbaska #2, as Kansas State was the only other major 1-loss team but had to settle for the Holiday Bowl thanks to a conference loss to Nebraska. My pick: Florida State.

Anyone left out?
Not since Kansas State lost to Nebraska. They had their chance.

2) The seedings would be #1 Florida State vs #4 Alabama and #2 Virginia Tech vs #3 Nebraska. My picks: FSU over Bama easily, but the other game is a real treat. I give Vick's Hokies a slight edge in this game, and we still get the entertaining yet decisive FSU vs VT matchup.

Anyone left out?
Again since KSU had lost to Nebraska, I don't think there were any teams with legitimate gripes.

3) It really comes down to the seedings. In all likeliness, FSU wins their bowl, and at least one of Nebraska and VT win (probably both if they don't play each other). If it's VT, then we have two unbeatens and thus a clear choice. If it's Nebraska over VT, then the Huskers would have earned their way into the 1vs2 game. But I think there's a good chance that FSU and VT would actually play each other as an ACC-Big East showdown, and the winner (FSU as it happened) would play against Nebraska and likely win.

1) The season ended with Oklahoma #1 and Miami #2. My pick: Miami

Anyone left out?
Washington finished with just one loss and had a win over Miami. Oregon State also had just one loss, also to Washington. Therefore, Washington would have the most legitimate complaints. Virginia Tech also suffered just one loss, but didn't have any impressive victories.

2) The seedings would be #1 Oklahoma vs #4 Washington and #2 Florida State vs #3 Miami. My picks: Oklahoma over Washington, Miami over FSU. Then Miami over Oklahoma.

Anyone left out?
Oregon State would probably feel left out, but with a loss to Washington they could only blame themselves. Virginia Tech also suffered just one loss, but didn't have any impressive victories.

3) Assuming an ACC-Big East Orange Bowl, the Miami-FSU rematch would give a decisive #2 seed. In all likeliness, we're looking at Oklahoma #1, Miami #2, Washington #3, and Virginia Tech and Oregon State at #4 and #5. My pick: Miami

Anyone left out?
As with option 1, Washington is the most slighted team.

1) The season ended with Miami #1 and Oregon #2. My pick: Miami

Anyone left out?
With three losses, Colorado gets to go sit in the corner. Illinois and Maryland lost their bowl games too, so Oregon was the clear choice for #2.

2) The seedings would be #1 Miami vs #4 Oregon, and a rematch with #2 Nebraska vs #3 Colorado. My picks: Miami crushes Oregon and Nebraska defeats a cooled-down Colorado. We still get the epic beating that was Miami vs Nebraska.

Anyone left out?
Illinois and Maryland would feel slighted to have been left out in favor of a Colorado team with more losses than them. Unfortunately for both squads, the Big Ten and ACC didn't have strong seasons that year.

3) It comes down to the seedings, and I don't think they help. Oregon goes to the Rose Bowl and plays Illinois, presumably a Duck victory. Miami likely plays and crushes Maryland. Nebraska wouldn't be matched up with Colorado, and I don't think any team not listed so far would have been able to beat them. So we still end up with Miami #1, Nebraska #2, and Oregon #3. Miami beats Nebraska.

Anyone left out?
Oregon at 11-1. Illinois and Maryland would have both lost big-time. Although if Illinois pulled off the upset of Oregon, then it would just be a different team that got left out.

1) The season ended with Ohio State #1 and Miami #2. Now ain't that funny. We're probably looking at a Miami-OSU rematch one week later, unless there's a rule against it. And guess what? My pick is Miami. Freaking 3-peat, unbelievable. (if there is a no BCS rematch rule, then Ohio State plays either Georgia or USC, probably Georgia who had one fewer loss. In either case, Ohio State would be my pick to win)

Anyone left out?
If it's OSU-Miami II, then Georgia has to be feeling a little slighted.

2) The seedings would be #1 Miami vs #4 USC and #2 Ohio State vs #3 Georgia. My picks: Miami over USC, Ohio State over Georgia. I'd take Miami over OSU, but we know that it didn't turn out that way. (so for the final comparison purposes, I take OSU)

Anyone left out?
Iowa might be feeling left out, with only one loss now that they don't face USC in the Rose Bowl. Again it's more of a Big Ten problem than a BCS problem. Iowa should have faced Ohio State to crown a definitive conference champion.

3) Unfortunately, Washington State was the Pac 10 champion rather than USC, and so the Rose Bowl would have featured Ohio State vs Washington State. Miami would face and annihilate a lowly FSU in the Orange Bowl. If we're lucky, Georgia would have faced Iowa, or even USC, to put them clearly at #3 or #2 should Miami or OSU be upset. In all likeliness, Miami and Ohio State both win their bowls, and we have exactly two unbeatens. Again I'd take Miami over OSU, but we know that it didn't turn out that way. (pick: OSU)

Anyone left out?
With exactly two unbeatens, nope.

1) Ah yes, that year. LSU is #1 in the BCS after defeating Oklahoma, and USC is #1 in the polls (#2 BCS) after defeating Michigan. In the +1 game, LSU squares off against USC. My pick: LSU via Keys to a Championship

Anyone left out?
Everyone else had two or more losses. Nope. Oh wait, there was 13-1 Miami University and future super bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger!

The seedings would have been #1 Oklahoma vs #4 Michigan and #2 LSU vs #3 USC. Oklahoma shuts down Michigan, and I'm going with LSU's defense and experience in our next matchup. We still get LSU facing OU in the +1 game, edge LSU.

Anyone left out?
Oh there might have been some who felt that way, but they all lost 2 games which in my opinion eliminates you from championship discussion.

We know we'd get USC vs Michigan in the Rose Bowl, game USC. So it comes down the the question, who do LSU and Oklahoma play and how impressive are their victories? If we were lucky, LSU would have wound up facing OU to set up a clear LSU vs USC matchup. If we were unlucky, all three would wind up winning their bowls and probably either USC or LSU is on the outside looking in. It all depends on how the polls and SOS change after the bowls.

Anyone left out?
Yeah, somebody.

1) Ah yes, that year. USC is #1 in the BCS after defeating Oklahoma, and Auburn is #2. USC faces Auburn and that game probably goes to USC. The structure of the pseudo-playoff would have helped Auburn though, as there's only a week to prepare which de-emphasized what was probably USC's greatest advantage, gameplanning. It's a close call but USC is the more likely of the two to win.

Anyone left out?
Damn yes. Utah is unbeaten.

2) The seedings would be #1 USC vs #4 Texas and #2 Oklahoma vs #3 Auburn. Barring VY finding his 2005 form a few months early, USC advances. With a superior defense, QB, and RB duo, Auburn wins but it's low-scoring. Then USC faces Auburn, and I've given the edge to USC.

Anyone left out?
Damn yes. Utah is unbeaten. This season is actually a good argument for having the ability to change who's selected. #4 Texas has lost to #2 OU, #5 Cal has lost to #1 USC, and #6 Utah is unbeaten. A committee should have been able to substitute Utah in at #4.

USC would face Michigan in the Rose Bowl, for a second straight season under this format. Again, USC is the prohibitive favorite. The question is - will Auburn or Oklahoma be #2 in the final week? Fortunately, I think the BCS might adopt the Cotton Bowl which could in fact pit the Big XII champion against the SEC champion since that is the conference rivalry, and would likely be an Auburn victory. If the SEC champion goes to the Sugar Bowl and the Big XII champion to the Cotton Bowl, then we're in more of a pickle. Strangely, Utah's bowl could determine whether it is Auburn or Oklahoma that faces USC. If Utah faced OU, I would actually give Utah the edge in that game via the Jason White factor. If Utah faced Auburn, an impressive victory by the Tigers could allow them to hop OU in the rankings, although I wouldn't give that odds above 50%. Looking at the championship picture, all three of these teams would probably lose to USC, some more likely than others.

Anyone left out?
At the end of the day, I think either Auburn or Utah - possibly both - are unbeaten and still left out.

1) Texas is #1 in the BCS after defeating USC. USC remains #2, and again we're wondering if there is a rematch. If not, Texas would simply pound replacement Penn State into the ground. If there is a rematch, we're looking at another epic game - with these offenses, there's no reason not to. I'd like to say that Texas's defense gives them the edge, but these offenses are great on an historic level. It comes down to whether or not Vince Young can pull off another Jordanesque performance. I didn't see much in the game that did take place to think USC could stop him if Texas needed a score.

Anyone left out?
Since USc was clearly the #2 team in the nation, had played Texas the week earlier and lost, and Penn State just won a horribly ugly game, I don't think either team can complain much if the other is chosen.

2) Seedings are #1 USC vs #4 Ohio State and #2 Texas vs #3 Penn State. I think Ohio State would perform well and generate the preseason hype for 2006, but ultimately USC is too good for them. Penn State was lucky to have just one loss (although, in another sense they were unlucky not to be unbeaten) and they can't match up with Texas. We still get the epic USC vs Texas game in the end.

Anyone left out?
Oregon might feel shafted since Ohio State had more losses, but since Oregon lost to USc and Ohio State lost to both Penn State and Texas, neither one could really complain much.

3) In the Rose Bowl, USC would face Penn State which would be an easy Trojan victory. I don't know who Texas would face... it's possible that they rematch Ohio State, although what I'd like to see is VY set a bowl TD record vs Notre Dame. Whatever happens, it's all but a lock that USC and Texas are still set up to play against each other.

Anyone left out?
Exactly two unbeatens. Nope.

1) 2006 was the first year when the BCS was really controversial going in, and it actually worked itself out. Ironically, USC - which had been involved in the 2003 and 2004 controversial selections - helped the system by defeating Michigan. What we're probably looking at is a rematch between #1 Florida and #2 Ohio State. In fact, in this case I would favor the rematch, because LSU and USC both had two losses while Ohio State only had one. Although what I would really liked to have seen is Florida vs Boise State. Come on, they're the only remaining unbeaten in the nation and they just shocked Oklahoma. Give the Broncos a chance! But in reality, Boise couldn't match up with Florida, and they're probably ranked too low to be chosen anyways. So we have Florida vs Ohio State II. This time Ted Ginn plays the entire game and Ohio State isn't coming into the game thinking they've already won. And yet, I see no reason to believe that they would actually have a good chance to win this game. Florida wins, but Ohio State gives a more respectable showing.

Anyone left out?
Probably Boise State. Man, that sucks.

2) Oh this would be a good one. We've got #1 Ohio State vs #4 LSU and #2 Florida vs #3 Michigan. That first game really could go either way, since LSU and Florida both had similar defensive strengths. In fact, LSU's secondary might have been even better than Florida's. But I'm not sure that LSU's offense was really the kind that would worry Ohio State, so I'm going to hesitantly go with the Buckeyes. Michigan's power running game could give the smaller Florida defense some problems, but likewise Florida's speed and passing game would be tough for Michigan to stop. But in the bowl games that did happen, Chris Leak played like he had something to prove, and Chad Henne still didn't. Edge Florida. Then we get the Florida vs Ohio State game, edge Florida.

Anyone left out?
Boise State. Although before beating Oklahoma, their schedule didn't warrant a playoff invite.

3) Ohio State would face USC in the Rose Bowl. Unlike Florida, USC's style of passing isn't something that would shred the OSU defense, and they wouldn't give USC much more running room than Michigan did. Unlike Michigan, Ohio State wouldn't be afraid to go to the air early against USC, and so I think Ohio State wins by about two scores. If anyone could beat Florida, it would be LSU, but there's no way they pit two SEC teams against each other, and so Florida still winds up playing against Ohio State. The only way I can see that falling apart is if UF got a really weak bowl matchup and Michigan got a strong opponent but still won. (on the other hand, I could see LSU and Florida both able to beat Michigan if they faced off)

In the end, I *think* we'd get OSU vs Florida. But with Wisconsin beating Arkansas and Penn State beating Tennessee... probably OSU over USC as well... Michigan's got decent odds of jumping Florida if both teams won. In fact, this really warrants some deeper analysis:

Teams in the BCS:
ACC: Wake Forest
Big East: Louisville
Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan (at-large)
Big XII: Oklahoma
Pac 10: USC
SEC: Florida, LSU (at-large)
Other: Boise State, Notre Dame

Orange: Wake Forest vs Louisville
Rose: Ohio State vs USC
Now if the Cotton Bowl is added to the BCS, that's SEC vs Big XII. So Florida vs Oklahoma.
That leaves Boise State, LSU, Michigan, and Notre Dame.
This leaves three remaining options:
a) LSU vs Notre Dame, Michigan vs Boise State
b) LSU vs Michigan, Boise State vs Notre Dame
c) LSU vs Boise State, Michigan vs Notre Dame

If Florida beat Oklahoma and Michigan beat Notre Dame, that does more to help Florida than it does Michigan (since it lowers the value of Michigan's earlier victory over ND), so I think in the case of c) we still get OSU vs Florida if Florida can beat OU.

If Michigan beat LSU, that would mean bowl losses for the top three teams that Florida beat during the regular season and a major boost to Michigan's SOS, so Michigan would be in a good position to hop Florida and face Ohio State. At the same time, if Michigan beat LSU, they'd have earned it. And I don't think they would actually beat LSU anyway.

If Michigan beat Boise State and Florida beat OU... well, that's tricky. Boise State's computer average was 7 while Oklahoma's was 16, so that breaks the computer tie between UF and UM and swings it strongly in the Wolverines' favor. However, Oklahoma was #8 in the polls while Boise was #9 and viewed as a little lucky to be in the top ten, so I don't see anyone changing votes from UF to UM because of that. Nor really do I think many Michigan supporters in the polls would change their stance to pro-Florida. But recall that we've got USC losing to Ohio State. I did a lot of number crunching before the BCS made its final decision in December 2005, and I cam eto the conclusion that there were a number of ballots reading 2) Florida 3) USC 4) Michigan. Michigan gains ground in those ballots. If Michigan beats Boise State, I think they jump Florida... and you've got to think that UM had a good chance of doing that.

So it's looking like the title game depends entirely on the bowl matchups, even if we still have the case where Florida and UM both have one loss. Florida had two likely ways to get in (due to the fact that I think LSU takes Michigan), while Michigan had just one, so I'll say that there's a 2/3 chance that we still see a Florida victory over Ohio State.

Anyone left out?
* Boise State, unless they lose to Michigan or in another BCS bowl (such as vs LSU).
* Florida, if Michigan wins their BCS bowl and jumps them in the rankings.
* Michigan, if they win their BCS bowl but can't jump Florida.
* Louisville at 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory.

It's funny how much the little details matter. Despite all being called "BCS +1" and all being basically the same idea, I have these systems producing different champions in several seasons. Comparatively:
System 1 and System 2 produce different champions in: 2002*
System 1 and System 3 produce different champions in: 1998, 2002*, 2003**, 2006***
System 2 and System 3 produce different champions in: 1998, 2003**, 2006***

* In 2002, the choice of team for system 1 depends on whether or not the BCS allows a rematch of a game that was played the previous week.
** In 2003, the final #1 and #2 for system 3 strongly depend on bowl selections. I would actually say that a Cotton Bowl featuring Kansas State vs LSU is likely if we continue to bring 10 teams into the BCS, which leaves open a lot of possibilities for a championship assuming USC, LSU and OU all win their games.
*** In 2006, the final #1 and #2 for system 3 strongly depend on bowl selections. I don't know that there would be much rhyme or reason as to which at-large team goes where, so Michigan's final ranking leaves a lot to chance.

From looking at these systems, I think it's very clear that option 2 - a BCS that includes 1vs4 and 2vs3 games followed by winner vs winner - is the best way to go. Option 1 - leave everything the way it is now and have one more game added later - isn't too bad, but I also don't see why they would do things this way since that actually makes it advantageous to be ranked #3 and therefore not have to play in the "king of the hill" game twice in a row. Option 3 - no 1vs2 game until after the first week of the BCS - is a little more likely than option 1 I think, but it also does the least amount to help, and in some cases (2006) it could actually hurt the best team's chances of getting into the title game. It leaves too much to luck of the draw in the first week's BCS matchups.

So here's hoping that, should the BCS indeed implement a "+1" system, they make that in the form of a simple 4-team playoff. Though I think it is clear that the extra game will, more often that not, be an opportunity for the best teams to add to the clarity of the final #1 ranking.

Thursday, July 5

Keys to a Championship: July 07

If you're a longtime (read: one-year) reader of this site, then certainly you're aware of my Keys to a Championship. Basically, no team has ever won a BCS championship without a Jr or Sr QB and a defense ranked in the top 10 in scoring. The 2006 Florida Gators, with Sr QB Chris Leak and a defense that finished #6 in ppg allowed, continued that trend. In a Phil Steele moment, let me say that a) from the opening weekend of the 2006 season through the end, I consistently said that of all the teams in NCAA div I-A, Florida would be most deserving of a second-chance title berth due to their schedule and that b) I came up with that fact/prediction about the winner's experience at QB and defensive strength several months before Florida won the title. Clearly, I am totally awesome and if I had a blog you should definitely read it, which I do and you are.

Also worth noting is that of the teams who have lost in a BCS title game, four still fit this trend (00 FSU, 01 Neb, 03 OU, 06 OSU) and none had both an inexperienced QB and a defense outside the top ten. 04 OU in fact had a senior QB and a defense ranked in the top ten before USC hung 55 on them, and 99 Va Tech had the #1 scoring defense and a lowly freshman QB named Michael Vick.

How do our major title contenders look in terms of QB experience and defensive stalwartness?

QB: Tim Tebow (So)
Def: #6 in scoring last year, high chance of decline in 07

QB: Brian Brohm (Sr)
Def: #19 in scoring last year, low chance of improvement in 07

QB: Matt Flynn (Sr)
Def: #4 in scoring last year, moderate chance of improvement in 07

QB: Chad Henne (Sr)
Def: #8 scoring last year, high chance of decline in 07

QB: Sam Bradford (Fr)
Def: #17 scoring last year, moderate chance of improvement in 07

QB: Colt McCoy (So)
Def: #24 scoring last year, high chance of improvement in 07

QB: John David Booty (Sr)
Def: #12 in scoring last year, high chance of improvement in 07

Virginia Tech
QB: Sean Glennon (Jr)
Def: #1 in scoring last year, hm can't get any better than that

West Virginia
QB: Pat White (Jr)
Def: #48 in scoring last year, moderate chance of improvement in 07

Defensively, West Virginia should be eliminated off the bat. They would be happy with a top 20 scoring defense. Florida should miss on both counts, and Tebow has yet to show if he can be effective as something other than a changeup. Louisville and Texas would have their work cut out for them defensively, and Colt McCoy would also need to be a truly special sophomore, that much at least isn't a stretch. Oklahoma is very much a long-shot. Michigan could get to the title game, but against some of these offenses their defense might crumble depending on how they deal with so much lost talent.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that LSU and USC both appear to fit the mold the best. Virginia Tech isn't getting a lot of publicity, but they also do fit the mold of what it takes to win a championship... if they can win at LSU in September, then they'll definitely be for real.

A stupidly long preview of the Horns

Following the departure of The Greatest College Quarterback Ever, to be replaced by a relatively unknown redshirt freshman named Colt McCoy, the 2006 Texas Longhorns were expected to be a team that ran the ball a lot and won low-scoring battles with a stout defense. A blowout of North Texas in the opener didn't really change expectations, and as the offense was held to a mere 7 points by Ohio State, the view of Texas as a team that would struggle to find an aerial attack solidified. And the numbers would remain modest up through the Red River Shootout, a game which indeed was won by defense (+5 turnovers) and the running game, with a few well-timed TD strikes when the offense was well-positioned. In the second half of the season, something clicked, and McCoy went on to lead a comeback drive against Nebraska, big totals against OK State, Baylor, and Texas Tech, and a comeback bowl victory against Iowa. En route he tied an NCAA freshman TD record (29), compiled a QB rating of 161.8, and actually averaged more passing yards per game than Heisman winner Troy Smith. The Longhorns were able to keep a variation of their option read offense, less option-heavy than with VY but with McCoy a surprisingly viable ground threat. In 2007, Colt McCoy is a top 20 college QB and could arguably be in the top 10.

What's concerning is depth. Two of Texas's three losses last season came in games where McCoy missed significant time, and while the K-State loss is certainly more a defensive collapse than the offense's fault, missing a key leader can affect the play of the entire team. Jevan Snead has transferred from the university, leaving unproven redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris and highly recruited true freshman John Chiles to battle for backup. Although talented players, neither is experienced and the Longhorns do not want to be facing the prospect of another injury to McCoy.

Running Backs
After 11 straight years of having a 1000+ yard rusher, no Texas back in 2006 topped the 900 mark. This is attributable to two factors: Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles splitting time at RB, and Vince Young's departure. Charles will be the primary RB in 2007, and he is faster and more agile than S. Young. Indeed, Charles is certainly a top 10 and perhaps top 5 college runningback. Bruiser-back Henry Melton has moved to defensive end, and while he may come in for short-yardage situations, the burden is squarely on Charles and McCoy.

The result will be a rushing style Texas fans haven't seen in a while. Charles does not have the power of Cedric Benson nor possibly Vince Young, but he has track speed and great moves. The emphasis on him will allow him to develop his game even more, but the lack of a back rotation could have an impact on his freshness throughout the game.

Wide Receivers
Quietly, Texas has had one of the better wide receiver corps in the nation for several years. Limas Sweed grew from Vince Young's third option into Colt McCoy's favorite, grabbing 46 passes for 801 yards and 12 TDs. Young's favorite wideout target, Billy Pittman, saw his yardage decrease significantly, but still hauled in 35 passes and 4 scores. Excitingly, Quan Cosby emerged as the #2 receiver in 2006 and highly touted Jordan Shipley finally had an injury-free season in which he contributed well as a #4 receiver. Any one of their top three WRs is a thread to gain 700-800 yards in a season, and two of them already have.

In 2007 that underrated skill will finally meet with experience as Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman enter their senior years, and Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley return as a juniors. Sweed is arguably a top 5 receiver in the NCAA, and Pittman a potential NFL draft pick. Indeed, the play of Pittman may determine the success of this group, as his yardage total from 2006 was about half that of 2005. This could be the best trio of receivers in the country.

Tight End
Vince Young loved his tight ends. David Thomas was the leading man for receptions and go-to guy for Texas in their national championship season. Bo Scaife contributed significantly in 2004, as Texas had two major receiving threats at TE that season, both of whom were eventual NFL draft picks. Last season, freshman Jermichael Finley beat out senior Neale Tweedie for the starting spot, on his way to an impressive 31 catches and 3 TDs.

Finley has great size at 6-5 236, great hands and strong athleticism. He showed flashes of being the next great Texas tight end, but as a freshman was not able to have the kind of great season that Thomas and Scaife provided recently. With a year now under his belt, and no longer sharing playing time, he is a strong bet to reel in 40 or 50 catches in 2007.

Depth is a concern here as the #2 TE, Peter Ullman, has caught just two passes in his two years at Texas! Freshmen are not expected to contribute significantly in 2007, meaning what we are likely to see here is a lot of sets featuring just one TE and three WR. This has become the staple formation for Texas over the past two seasons, so it is nothing new.

Offensive Line
Texas has grown accustomed to having one of the five best offensive lines in the nation for several years. In their national championship season, the Horns were the #3 rushing team in the nation and gave up just 14 sacks. Although the rushing yards decreased (more due to VY's departure), the sack total only rose to 19 and this is with a less ground-savvy QB.

However, Lyle Sendlein, Justin Blalock, and Kasey Studdard are all gone in 2007, and they were the unquestionable anchors of Texas's mammoth lines of 05 and 06. Cedric Dockery returning at RG is a plus, and the center is replaced by a senior, but LG and RT will both be manned by sophomores with about half a season's worth of experience.

Whatever flaws there are with the 2007 Texas offense, parts will be traceable to the offensive line. It will not be a horrible drop-off, but I also would not call this a top ten unit.

Offensive Outlook
In 2003-05, Texas finished no lower than 6th nationally in rushing ypg, averaging over 240 ypg every year. That number fell to 170 ypg and 30th overall in 2006. Passing improved dramatically between 2004 and 2005, then surprisingly stayed at that same level in 2006 at about 230 ypg.

Texas would prefer to be a balanced team, getting about half their yardage running the ball and racking up some big gains with their option plays and Charles' outside speed. No doubt the ground game will continue to be a major contributor to the Longhorns' success, its degree depending upon the skills and strengths of a somewhat new offensive line. But realistically, their offensive talent is stacked towards the air game, so you can expect Texas to throw the ball half the time or more as was their formula during the second half of the 2006 season.

The bottom line is that what was supposed to be a conservative, questionable offense in 2006 wound up being 5th in the nation in scoring, behind two WAC and two Big East schools. All of the skill players except for Selvin Young are back, and Colt McCoy is no longer a freshman. In 2007, Texas will be mentioned along with Louisville, LSU, Michigan, USC, and West Virginia as the best offenses in the nation.

Defensive Line
Texas is accustomed to dominating this side of the trenches as well. In 2005, Texas arguably had the best offensive and best defensive lines in the country, the latter of which was sometimes overshadowed by an offense racking up 50+ ppg. Between 2003 and 2005 the Horns gave up between 3.1 and 3.6 ypc over each season, with total rushing ypg depending on how much defenses wanted to test the Longhorn secondary; in 2005, the defensive backfield featured 5 future NFL draft picks, 2 future Thorpe winners, and teams opted to run again and again rather than facing those defensive backs. The secondary struggled in 2006, but the defensive line was stellar giving up a measly 2.3 ypc and becoming the #2 rushing defense in the country.

Big name departures include Tim Crowder and Brian Robison, known for his kick blocks and turnover recoveries as well as outstanding speed. However Texas recruits very well at this position, and both men stepping up are juniors with signficant playing experience.

The defensive ends do seem undersized at 248 and 260 lbs apiece, but the middle will be next to immovable with Okam and Miller. Orkapo and Lewis both do have significant game experience over the past two seasons. Because of his size, Henry Melton (6-3, 268) may eventually compete for a starting spot after having switched over from HB, and Thomas Marshall (6-6 290) has both size and experience at DE should teams try to exploit size in the power running game. The two-deep is made up of three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores. Overall, the unit will remain in the top five nationally.

Texas has produced a lot of great linebackers lately, big names being Derrick Johnson and Aaron Harris. Chizik shifted the Longhorn linebackers' focus from size and run stopping to speed and shutting down the outside. With a dominant defensive line this has come with little reprocussions in the running game, save for LenDale White's performance in the 06 Rose Bowl.

Everybody returns from last season, and everyone in the two deep is a legitimate starter. Their speed has been shown off the last two seasons, but these guys have also beefed up as only one player on the two-deep is shorter than 6-2 or less than 230. Projected starters Bobino and Derry each had 70+ tackles last season, and were the leading tacklers outside of the oft-tested secondary. Sophomore backups Kindle and Muckelroy have significant playing experience, and the starters are all jrs and srs. I believe this will wind up being another top five group nationally, although their rankings place them in the bottom half of the top ten.

Defensive Backs
The 2005 Texas Longhorn secondary has so far had two Thorpe winners (Huff, Ross) and five players drafted into the NFL. That season they shut down Ohio State and Texas Tech's passing games, forced Matt Leinart into a 1:1 TD-Int game, and wound up being one of the leading teams in terms of opponents' QB rating.

Last season, Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff were gone, but the Horns had three starters with significant (if not starting) experience and a fourth Marcus Griffin who was expected to fill in well. But something went wrong. When Tarrell Brown was suspended from the Ohio State game, no backup cornerback was able to cover the Buckeyes' #2 receiver. Iowa State managed 300 passing yards, then Baylor and Nebraska consecutively, before Texas Tech scorched the secondary for 519. The deep ball was a nightmare in Texas's upset loss to Kansas State, and numerous secondary mix-ups nearly cost them the Alamo Bowl. In the end, the unit ranked 97th in passing ypg allowed, giving up 236 ypg which is the most in school history. Their efficiency ratings place them more in the middle of the pack, as some of that yardage was a result of the defensive line shutting down any semblance of a running game by the opposition. But it cannot be denied that this unit was a disaster, save for brilliant play aginst Oklahoma.

This season the safeties are great. Marcus Griffin returns for his senior year and Drew Kelson transfers back from linebacker which will make this unit fearsome in run support. Speed a concern? Kelson's most famous highlight is covering Reggie Bush one-on-one on a fly route, keeping in stride and nearly picking off the pass. Both the deep pass and run support provided by these safeties will be excellent.

There is also a position called cornerback. Last season, Texas's corners went no deeper than Aaron Harris and Tarrell Brown, both of whom were drafted into the NFL this April. Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster are a jr and a sr, but poor performances in 2006 have lead Texas to tentatively have Chykie Brown (rFr) and Deaon Beasley (So) as starters. To the credit of Texas's likely starters, both were very highly recruited players out of high school (top 20 and top 10), which Palmer and Foster were both not, so as they gain experience that will allow their higher skill/potential to blossom. In any case, this is Texas' greatest concern. Moving into the top 25 in terms of passing ypg would be a nice goal, top 50 would be a mild success.

Defensive Outlook
The question aside from "How well will Teas' secondary hold up?" is "How well will the Longhorn defense perform without DC Gene Chizik?" Chizik, defensive coordinator of the AUburn Tigers during their unbeaten season before transferring to Texas to DC their national championship season, took a transfer to head coach at Iowa State. His record the past three seasons is impressive - a combined record of 36-3, an SEC Championship, a Big XII championship, three bowl victories, and of course a national championship. Statistically, the 04 Auburn defense was #1 in the country in scoring, 05 Texas finished #8 but was #4 going into their showndown with USC, and overall the three teams have given up an average of 15.3 ppg. Each of those years his defense has produced the Thorpe winner.

However, some Longhorns fans questioned his conservative schemes and playcalling as being an issue in 2006. Replacement Duane Akina has spend seven years with the team and is known for a more aggressive style. That aggressive style will be a double-edged sword, not forcing the secondary to stay in coverage as long per play, but at the risk of leaving inexperienced corners on an island.

In any case, I expect improvements in the linebackers (who were already good) and the secondary (which needed it), and probably about a standstill at defensive line. The Texas defense should be better than it was in 2006, but could still be vulnerable against passing attacks like Nebraska and Texas Tech, as well as Nebraska/Missouri in a potential conference championship.

Special Teams
With the exception of the 2004 squad which had major coverage unit problems, Texas' special teams groups typically flirt with top 10 to top 15 ratings. Over the past six seasons Texas has averaged four kick blocks per season, which means that the block units alone are providing a potentially game-changing play about once every three games. However, the most active blocker, Brian Robison, has graduated.

Last season Texas found a reliable kicker in the Nebraska game, Ryan Bailey. This came as a great relief as Greg Johnson had struggled on FGs. However, Johnson was a strong punter, and Trever Gerland will need to add about 2 yards to his average to provide the same level of punting. Quan Cobsy was the leading KR man, and he will likely step in to replace Aaron Harris at PR as well.

Provided Gerland is a solid punter, Texas's special teams will be strong but not spectacular; another finish in the 10-15 range.

Final Verdict
The final step from pretender to contender involved a) Vince Young's maturity as a passer and his eventual decision to make every play a broken play and b) Gene Chizik's conversion of the defense from Big XII-style power to SEC-style speed. Obviously both Young and Chizik are gone, but Texas's success will be based on similar things this year. Colt McCoy needs only slight improvements in his passing production to make this the nation's top offense, which may come from experience alone. Defensively, better raw talent coupled with a more aggressive scheme will need to be a winning formula in order for Texas to have 0 or 1 losses rather than 2 or 3.

Of Mack Brown's 22 losses in 9 seasons, 11 have come to top 10 opponents and five against Oklahoma specifically. They are 9-13 against opponents with 10+ victories, which isn't really bad (winning 10+ games tends to mean 2 or fewer losses, so it's a slanted sample) but not great either. Of those 22 losses though, only one has been against a team that wasn't bowl-eligible, and 4 total against teams with fewer than 8 victories, so they're not likely to fall to the completely random upset.

Sleeper Game: 9/8 vs TCU
In TCU's 22-3 run over the past two seasons, they are 4-0 against the Big XII with wins over Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor, and Texas Tech. Nonetheless, Texas will be expected to win this game and to win it comfortably. TCU feels like they have something to prove as, despite those wins and a 2-0 bowl record, they are still not a highly-regarded team. While Texas easily surpasses TCU in terms of talent, it will be difficult for them to match the Frogs in terms of motivation for this game.

Revenge Game: 9/29 at Kansas State
Last season, K-State embarassed Texas's defense in a 45-43 upset. Expect this loss to be on Texas' minds, as their near-loss to Kansas in 2004 was leading up to a 66-14 blowout in 2005. This game also has minor statement potential as it is the weekend before the Red River Shootout. This one could be ugly.

Statement Game: 10/6 vs Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Despite improvements by Nebraska and Missouri, the Big XII remains a two team conference in terms of the battle for top dog. Since 1999, either Texas or OU has represented the Big XII South in all 8 conference championship games, and 6 of those 8 times it has been the winner of this game that has gone on to play in the conference championship.

October and November:
It's true that most of Texas's season will be defined from opening kickoff through the OU game, and then in a possible conference championship and whatever bowl game they play in. But the forgotten part of the season has three potential roadblocks. Nebraska and Texas Tech should have excellent passing games, which plays at Texas's likely defensive weakness. However, these teams also managed a combined 25 yards rushing against Texas last season. Texas A&M won probably more due to McCoy's injury than anything else, but in a rivalry game anything can happen, and nothing gets Aggies fired up like playing against Texas.

If Texas loses to OU, Nebraska on 10/27 could be considered a barometer game.

Jury Says:
On paper, Texas either wins all of their regular season games or loses just to OU.

Practically speaking, with a freshman QB OU is in a poor position to exploit Texas's major weakness, and Texas plays two teams who may be inferior talent-wise but love to pass all day. Bump that up to three if Texas plays in the conference championship in a rematch against Nebraska or against Missouri. Fortunately these games are deep enough into the season to allow the secondary to gel.

Bottom line is, despite their level of talent, it's tough to see Texas going unbeaten. Barely more than one BCS conference team does it each season, and there's four or five teams that are more likely candidates. But anything more than two losses would probably require extraordinary circumstances, like another injury to McCoy. Likely outcomes are 10-12 wins and 1 or 2 losses.

Title Aspirations?
With Texas's weak schedule and low (for potential NC contention) starting ranking, the Horns would need to go unbeaten to get into the BCS championship. The Horns should be slight favorites against OU and will have 2 months to get their secondary in shape before facing a major passing threat. I would actually give the Horns about a 25% chance of running the table during the regular season - due to extreme offensive firepower, excellent front seven and solid safeties, and a favorable schedule. Not likely but certainly not shocking if it does happen.

Now if you are going to lose your conference and still play in the BCS championship, the Big XII is the place to do it (Nebraska 01, Oklahoma 03) -- nevermind what happened to both of those teams. But again realistically, Texas needs to finish 13-0 to land a spot in that game - they do not have a great preseason ranking nor a particularly strong schedule. Missouri and Nebraska should contend for the Big XII North title, and as a Texas fan, Missouri is much more threatening. They return 9 starters on offense to Nebraska's 6 (both return 5 on defense). Missouri's offense features a dual threat jr QB, a fast sr RB, and jr's and sr's across the board with the exception of one lone soph on the o-line. Their top five rushers and top three receivers, along with nine of their top ten receivers, are all returning. This is a very explosive and very balanced group, much like Texas. They have the advantage of not facing Texas during the regular season and having Nebraska at home. If I am a Texas fan - which I am - I'm rooting hard for Nebraska and Oklahoma to both defeat Missouri back-to-back... and perhaps for Texas Tech to finish their division championship hopes the following week. Fortunately, Nebraska does not face Oklahoma.

In all, I would give Texas about a 40% chance of winning the Big XII -- 55% odds they beat OU, and if they are in the conference championship about 80% odds of winning it. The missing 4% is of course the odds of two conference upsets... completely intentional math discrepancy, of course ;-)

So let's be optimists here and assume that Texas goes 13-0, crushing Oklahoma and Nebraska like red-jerseyed stepchildren. What are their odds of actually winning the title?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on who they are playing. Texas is not the best team in the nation, but they are a top ten team who could improve to be a top five team. Sometimes the best team doesn't win. Of the teams that are probably better than Texas, LSU has a killer schedule... you can say the same thing of anyone else in the SEC who might be better than Texas; indeed, only LSU has a realistic hope of emerging from that conference unbeaten.

Louisville and WVA play against each other, and with their defenses their winner could lose another game to random upset. Michigan faces Oregon in September (ie, when they're good), Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. USC has road games at Nebraska, at Oregon, and at Cal in addition to a rivalry game with an experienced UCLA. Notre Dame could even be a sleeper game for USC, just because a) it's in South Bend and b) Notre Dame hasn't beaten USC since 2001, so they might be due to win another before the decade's over. Between the three of these teams (counting "Louisville-WVA winner" as one team), I don't think that more than one will go unbeaten. So Texas being in the title game depend on a) the Horns going unbeaten and b) somebody knocking off LSU. Although if Michigan and USC both lost, Texas could wind up ahead of an unbeaten Big East team due to SOS.

In my opinion, Texas would actually like to face West Virginia in the BCS championship. (well, they'd like to face Temple, but of the likely contenders WVA) WVA is not a thread to exploit their secondary, and they do not really have a power running game. Their offense plays into Texas's defensive strengths. Their own defense has been questionable across the board.

Next would be Louisville. Despite a great passing game, the Cardinals' own secondary is very suspect, having two converted WRs playing the safety spots and not a lot of size up front. Rutgers and Wake Forest also showed that at least part of Louisville's big offensive numbers are due to the team they typically play. Texas would be favored in either matchup, but not by a wide margin.

Michigan and USC would be interesting matchups, for different reasons. Michigan and Texas are very similar, with incredible offensive talent but questions of defense - specifically, questions in the secondary. This would be a very close matchup. It could likely come down to a contest between Colt McCoy and Chad Henne. Luckily, Henne is 0-53 in big games.

USC would be interesting because it could feature the nation's top-ranked offense and top-ranked defense, and it could come down to how Texas's inexperienced secondary fares against USC's inexperienced receivers. In reality, though, I can't imagine USC not having a good receiving corps by midseason. And defense gets the edge in this game.

LSU would not be an interesting matchup. LSU would simply destroy Texas with all of their WR speed and probably the nation's best defense.

So if Texas wants to win the national title, they need to a) go unbeaten, b) hope LSU loses, and c) probably hope USC loses. I'd say that's only slightly better odds than a transport winning a defensive battle against a fighter, which Chris can tell you is unlikely but definitely possible.