Thursday, October 18

looking for contenders?

Not since 2003 have there been fewer unbeatens at this point of a college football season. Recall that in 2003, not a single team finished the regular season unblemished, and the BCS had one of its most controversial seasons ever. Unless you think two teams from the group Ohio State, South Florida, Boston College, Arizona State, and Kansas can run the table, we'll be in for at least a modicum of controversy come December. Actually, if Oklahoma or LSU finishes with just one loss then we may have controversy even if there are two unbeatens from that list (of the unbeatens, only USF's schedule ranks in the top HALF of the nation for SOS at #12). With that in mind, it's time to look at the AP Top 25 for possible title game players:

1. Ohio State
Big W's:
10/6 @ Purdue, 23-7
10/27 @ Penn State
11/17 @ Michigan
With their weak schedule, Ohio State absolutely must go unbeaten to play in the title game. Realistically, Michigan is the only team in the Big Ten with enough talent (and only because Ohio State relies much more on the run than last year) to defeat the Buckeyes straight-up. Penn State is a threat because of OSU's recent history in Happy Valley. Ohio State has a very strong chance of running the table.

2. South Florida
Big W's:
9/8 @ Auburn, 26-23
9/28 vs West Virginia, 21-13
10/18 @ Rutgers
11/3 vs Cincinnati
11/17 vs Louisville
Outlook: By schedule, USF actually could have a loss and still legitimately argue to be included over any one loss team not from the SEC. But their name won't allow it. They have three remaining games that will be tough to sweep, and despite being a legitimately good team I give USF less than a 50% chance of running the table.

3. Boston College
Big W's:
9/15 @ Georgia Tech, 24-10
10/25 @ Virginia Tech
11/3 vs Florida State
11/17 @ Clemson
ACC Championship
Outlook: With their schedule, it's not entirely inconceivable for BC to run the table and get jumped by a 1-loss LSU. To be honest, I don't know how I'd feel about that - given both how hard it is for any team to win all their games, but also the gross difference in schedule strengths. However, BC's easy schedule was ridiculously easy for the opening seven games; their final five opponents have something of a pulse. I think they'll lose a road game to VT or Clemson. If they go win out in the regular season, BC might want to hope Virginia does well so that they avoid a rematch with VT.

4. Oklahoma:
9/29 @ Colorado, 29-24
Big W's:
9/8 vs Miami, 51-13
10/6 vs Texas, 28-21
10/13 vs Missouri, 41-31
11/17 @ Texas Tech
Big XII Championship
Outlook: Fortunately for the Sooners, their loss came in conference and just after people had started to hype them up - so they avoided the peril of losing too early in September. They've already positioned themselves as the top one-loss team, and hypothetical wins over Texas Tech and the North champion might appear more impressive than they actually are (though I'm convinced of Mizzou's legitimacy). I think we'll have either 1 or 0 unbeaten teams aside from possibly Hawaii, so OU actually has a strong chance of climbing back into the top two.

5. LSU
10/13 @ Kentucky, 43-37 3OT
Big W's:
9/8 vs Va Tech, 48-7
9/22 vs South Carolina, 28-16
10/6 vs Florida, 28-24
10/20 vs Auburn
SEC Championship
Outlook: LSU has to like the fact that, one week following their loss, they only dropped 3-4 spots in the polls and were the top one-loss team in the BCS standings. If they win out, I think they like their chances of at least catching up to Oklahoma in the human polls and having the SEC's strength give them the edge in the computers. On that note, they might root for Florida to beat FSU and South Carolina over Clemson, to pull more points into their schedule... and obviously, go Virginia Tech. LSU has had a small number of very important injuries - notably Doucet and Jackson - whom they can probably win without for a while now that they are past the most grueling part of their schedule, but will need to have back and at 100% should they be faced with Florida a second time.

6. South Carolina
9/22 @ LSU, 28-16
Big W's:
9/8 @ Georgia, 16-12
10/4 vs Kentucky, 38-23
10/27 @ Tennessee
11/10 vs Florida
11/24 vs Clemson
SEC Championship
Outlook: Assuming a USF and BC loss, South Carolina might be the final school who controls their own destiny. Winning out would mean either beating LSU in the SEC championship or not playing against them (meaning the Tigers lose elsewhere) and I think that, from a realistic standpoint, the Gamecocks might need that to be the latter. I don't know that they are going to be able to beat both Tennessee and Florida - and they'll probably have another game with LSU which seems an even longer shot for them.

7. Oregon
9/29 vs Cal, 31-24
Big W's:
9/8 @ Michigan, 39-7
10/27 vs USC
11/3 vs Arizona State
Outlook: Oregon may have just lost Colvin and Johnson for the entire season, which is going to make it hard for them to win out. And even if they do, USC and Cal's upset losses damage their loss and their potentially most impressive win. Oregon probably needs Michigan to win the Big Ten, in addition to the Ducks winning out, to have a chance of getting into the title game over a one-loss South Carolina or Kentucky. LSU and Oklahoma would need to lose. Probably not happening.

8. Kentucky
10/4 @ South Carolina, 38-23
Big W's
9/15 vs Louisville, 40-34
10/13 vs LSU, 43-37 3OT
10/20 vs Florida
11/17 @ Georgia
11/24 vs Tennessee
SEC Championship
Outlook: Their victory over LSU may be the best signature win of any team with title game hopes. Kentucky winning out would mean an incredible resume of victories but they would also have to hope that South Carolina loses in order to play in the SEC Championship. A more interesting scenerio might involve LSU losing to Auburn and then winning out, and South Carolina losing only a second time to LSU in the conference championship -- leaving Kentucky with the best record and highest ranking in the conference but not having played in the championship game. However not only do they not control their own destiny in the SEC East, but they would also need Oregon and Oklahoma to lose on top of South Carolina. Personally I think they will lose to Florida, but if they win this weekend then their odds improve dramatically.

9. West Virginia
9/28 @ USF, 21-13
Big W's:
10/27 @ Rutgers
11/8 vs Louisville
11/17 @ Cincinnati
Outlook: Should West Virginia win out, losses given to the above three teams could ensure that WVU has not beaten a top 25 opponent all season. But whether UC winds up ranked #24 or #27, the fact is that the Mountaineers again faced a weak schedule and did nothing but make it weaker with their nonconference choices. Worse, this season the offense hasn't looked half as fierce as last, and with two big road games remaining it's tough to see the Mountaineers winning out in the first place.

10. Cal
10/13 vs Oregon State, 31-28
Big W's:
9/1 vs Tennessee, 45-31
9/29 @ Oregon, 31-24
10/27 @ Arizona State
11/10 vs USC
Outlook: Cal has played a tough, tough schedule and if they win out they'll have four quality wins with three of two of those coming on the road. If the Golden Bears win out, voters might also remember that their lone loss came without their starting quarterback and even then only because his replacement made a boneheaded decision on the final play. At this point, it's looking like Oregon was Cal's toughest opponent, and we're still not sure if ASU is even for real. The Bears have a good chance of winning out, but the only team above them they can realistically hope to jump without a loss from here out is West Virginia.

11. Virginia Tech
9/8 @ LSU, 48-7
Big W's:
10/6 @ Clemson, 41-23
10/25 @ Boston College
11/1 @ Georgia Tech
11/10 vs Florida State
ACC Championship
Outlook: The Hokies would need a lot of help to climb nine spots in the rankings. They can make some of that happen by beating Boston College, but they still have to hope that eight other teams above them lose. Of course they would have to run the table the rest of the way. One or the other - maybe both - won't happen.

12. Arizona State
Big W's:
10/27 vs Cal
11/3 @ Oregon
11/22 vs USC
Outlook: For the Sun Devils, it's simple: if they win out, they'll be in the BCS championship barring three unbeatens - and even then, they could leapfrog Boston College or maybe even USF. A loss with their ranking already this low eliminates them. Bottom line - that's three tough games and they'll probably lose two.

13. USC
10/6 vs Stanford, 24-23
Big W's:
9/15 @ Nebraska, 49-31
10/27 @ Oregon
11/10 @ Cal
11/22 @ Arizona State
Outlook: USC lost a close game that came down to some luck, but more importantly came down to a heck of a lot of Trojan injuries. Those injuries haven't gone away, and if players like Stafon Johnson don't get back before that game against Oregon they're looking at another loss in these tough three road games. But if anyone can sprint up the polls, it's USC, and I'd say that only LSU and *maybe* Oklahoma would have a chance of being chosen above the Trojans with one loss.

14. Florida
9/29 vs Auburn, 20-17
10/6 @ LSU, 28-24

T-15. Missouri
10/13 @ Oklahoma, 41-31
Big W's:
9/1 @ Illinois, 40-34
10/6 vs Nebraska, 41-6
10/20 vs Texas Tech
11/17 @ Kansas State
11/24 @ Kansas
Big XII Championship
Outlook: Missouri is fortunate that the rest of their games look very winnable and that they will likely get a chance to rematch Oklahoma. Winning that rematch would make them the clear Big XII #1 and jump them over Oklahoma in the polls. However, they would need all the SEC and Pac 10 teams above them to lose - as well as two of the top three unbeatens. Stranger things have happened, but they're a very long shot.

T-15. Kansas
Big W's:
10/6 @ Kansas State, 30-24
11/24 vs Missouri
Big XII Championship
Outlook: Kansas has a very, very forunate schedule as the avoid Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. This will give them a weak SOS, but a final game against Missouri and a conference championship win over (likely opponent) Oklahoma would give them a big jump in the computer polls in the final weeks. Bottom line - an unbeaten team from the Big XII, even if it's Kansas, gets in over any one-loss team - particularly if Oklahoma and Missouri don't lose more than one game combined to someone other than Kansas. Still, I have no reason to believe that they will beat both Missouri and OU.

17. Hawaii
Big W's:
11/10 vs Fresno State
11/23 vs Boise State
12/1 vs Washington
Outlook: With their schedule, going 12-0 might not be enough to get the Warriors into the BCS, let alone the championship game.

18. Auburn
9/8 vs South Florida, 26-23
9/15 vs Mississippi State, 19-14

19. Texas
9/29 vs Kansas State, 41-21
10/6 @vs Oklahoma, 28-21

20. Tennessee
9/1 @ Cal, 45-21
9/15 @ Florida, 59-20

21. Georgia
9/8 vs South Carolina, 16-12
10/6 @ Tennessee, 35-14

22. Texas Tech
9/22 @ Oklahoma State, 49-45
Big W's:
10/20 @ Missouri
11/10 @ Texas
11/14 vs Oklahoma
Big XII Championship
Outlook: The Red Raiders have a lot of big games between now and the end of the season. If they keep playing well, Heisman hype about both Harrell and Crabtree might give them some help in the polls. Bottom line, 12-1 might not be enough for them as they'd need the SEC, Pac 10, BC/VT, and USF/WVU to help them out.

23. Cincinnati
10/13 vs Louisville, 28-24
Big W's:
10/6 @ Rutgers, 28-23
11/3 @ South Florida
11/17 vs West Virginia
Outlook: Cincinnati just does not have enough recent history to garner top two votes with one loss. They have been effectively eliminated.

24. Michigan
9/1 vs Appalachian State, 34-32
9/8 vs Oregon, 39-7
ELIMINATED by the first loss alone.

25. Kansas State
9/1 @ Auburn, 23-13
10/6 vs Kansas, 30-24

UPSET Picks for this week:

1 - Florida at Kentucky - Kentucky finally pulled off the upset of LSU that Florida was unable to do in Baton Rouge. However, Florida has Kentucky's number in the past decade, and regardless on Andre Woodson this game is a tossup. Every good quarterback this year has shown their Jekyll and Hyde - could this be it for Florida's Tim Tebow? With 2 big losses they are out of the title race, however with one more loss they are essentially out of the SEC race as well.

2 - Alabama at Tennessee - There's always the Saban factor. People continue to say that Saban is overrated, but take a look at what he has done with the team which has 0 of his own recruits. Bama was stuck in mediocrity for the past few years, and this year they came to legitimacy with motivation and inspiration. Just think of what they will be able to do with Saban's recruiting. It is because of this factor that I think Bama could win almost any game against a very competitive SEC.

3 - Michigan at Illinois - the former has come on strong the past 5 weeks, and this will be their second major test in the Big 10. Illinois lost a heartbreaker last week, and Zook and crew are looking to right the ship and get back into the Top 25. They are a legitimate team and need another signature win like Wisconsin to get back into the game.

4 - Kansas at Colorado - I'm banking on Colorado to have another upset game. They have a decent defense if they make the plays on the field, which they have at times and at other times they have not. Although it will be another year or two before they really come together offensively, I think this team has enough grit to pull it out on Folsom Field.

Sunday, October 7

James' Week 6 rankings


1. LSU (prev #1, +0 change)
No more debating and seesawing now that USC has been upset. The Tigers were pushed to the limit against Florida and dug deep for the win. This was not the same Gators team that putzed around against Auburn - the whole offense and Tebow in particular came to play. It was the kind of win that can define a season, or even a champion.

2. Ohio State (3, +1)
If the knock on Ohio State was not having a quality win, how does going into a 5-0 team's house and handing out a massacre sound? Purdue entered the game with a top ten scoring offense but time and time again it was the nation's new #1 scoring defense which prevailed. A good running back and a great defense is a proven formula for Ohio State.

3. Cal (4, +1)
The Golden Bears watched games during their bye week, and watched themselves become front runners for the Pac 10 title and a slot in the BCS Championship game. Defensively they are clearly a notch below LSU and Ohio State, which is why I have them at #3, but with the number of play makers they have they are a clear title contender.

4. South Florida (5, +1)
It was a classic trap game after a huge win over WVU and before a rivalry game with UCF. The Bulls have some holes on offense that will probably keep them from running the table.

5. Missouri (13, +8)
As Illinois continues to knock off Big Ten foes, the argument that Missouri does not have any quality wins continues to hold less water. (in fact, their week 1 victory was also on the road) Now having blown out Nebraska, Missouri appears to be for real. Chase Daniel is having a great season with a QB rating of 149, 15 TDs, and just 4 picks.

6. Boston College (7, +1)
Georgia Tech looked like a quality win at the time, but less so now. The Eagles get a matchup with no longer winless Notre Dame (yes, Lou, they're back!) then a bye week before their first real test at Virginia Tech.

7. Oregon (10, +3)
With Stanford having pulled off the upset, the Ducks have to like their chances for an unbeaten October. Realistically, Oregon has a very strong shot at going 10-2 as the Pac 10 appears to have a sharp dropoff after the top four.

8. Oklahoma (11, +3)
Following a devastating loss to Colorado, the Sooners played top ten football in the Red River Shootout against Texas. Bradford threw three TD passes in a big rivalry game but Missouri may be the Sooners' biggest challenge yet.

9. South Carolina (12, +3)
Spurrier just doesn't lose to Kentucky. But seriously, give credit to a great coach for getting top ten-level play out of a team who many didn't think could finish this season ranked. Now they're atop the SEC East!

10. Florida (9, -1)
Despite losing for the second straight week, the Gators played top ten football in one of the toughest road environments in the NCAA. Had the Tigers not been able to pull off five 4th down conversions, the Gators may have gone into the Bayou and won.

11. USC (2, -9)
Despite giving up two straight 4th down conversions to lose the game, the blame cannot be placed on the defense here. Booty threw 4 INTs, giving him 6 in the last two games (8 Trojan turnovers total in those games). Yardage-wise they have dominated those games, but thanks to TOs the scores have not reflected that. The offense will improve when Johnson and Gable return, but the players USC may be missing the most are departed NFL receivers Jarrett and Smith.

12. Cincinnati (14, +2)
If conference championships are won by getting tough road wins, then Cincinnati took a big step towards claiming the Big East title with a hard-fought win at Rutgers. Louisville now appears to be a very winnable game, but Brohm and the Cardinals have too much pride to fall below .500 without a fight.

13. Arizona State (18, +5)
ASU is one of the last teams that I can't really figure out, as they continue to win but haven't played anyone of note. The Washington State game this weekend was very close, but blowing out Stanford and Colorado is more impressive considering what they've done these past two weeks.

14. Virginia Tech (16, +2)
On the road at Clemson, the Hokies gave up more points (23) than they have in the last three games but also put up 41. 21 of those came on defense and special teams. I'm still not really sold on this team, but they're 5-1 having lost only to LSU.

15. Kentucky (6, -9)
We knew the wheels were going to fall out on a team whose defense is this bad. Surprisingly, it was Woodson turnovers that provided most of the difference in points. UK still has a very explosive offense and have found ways to win two big games, so don't forget about them just yet.

16. Hawaii (17, +1)
The Warriors continue to be an unimpressive unbeaten, and with their schedule that might be good enough.

17. Illinois (unranked)
After back to back wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, Illinois has a great shot at winning 9 or 10 games. If they win out or lose only to an unbeaten Ohio State (coupled with a LSU or Cal loss), they'll be in the Rose Bowl. Next week the Illini face Iowa, an overrated team in a stadium overrated for its difficulty. Hosting Michigan will be the key to their season, and the spread option offense that the Illini now run has given the Wolverines fits this season.

18. West Virginia (21, +3)
When WVA shot up in the official rankings this week, did people not remember how awful Syracuse is? I'll wait to see if they can win both at Rutgers and at Cincinnati.

19. Florida State 19, +0)
It's funny how a team can fool you. I definitely thought this was the same ol Noles after a week 1 loss at Clemson... a month later and they're 4-1. November will be a brutal month though.

20. Kansas (unranked)
One of the quieter teams to still be unbeaten, the Jayhawks won at Kansas State for the first time since 1989. They're 5-0 and feature the nation's #4 scoring offense and #3 scoring defense. Amazingly they avoid both Texas and Oklahoma in regular season play, so KU has a chance to finish with very few losses.

21. Tennessee (unranked)
Erik Ainge certainly has the Georgia defense's number. The Volunteers won't admit it, but making it through the first half of their schedule at 3-2 is pretty good considering, and more importantly they control their own destiny in the SEC East.

22. Texas (19, -3)
It hurts to lose two games in a row, but unlike the KSU debacle Texas did play a solid game against Oklahoma; the Sooners are simply a good team. If McCoy keeps playing at just this level, the Longhorns' streak of 10-win seasons should remain intact.

23. Wisconsin (8, -15)
It's been weeks in the making, and Wisconsin finally couldn't pull the game out at the end. Realistically they were going to lose one of their two games at Illinois and at Penn State... so now they need to win next week in order to stay on track.

24. Auburn (unranked)
It's somewhat of a ranking by default, but the Tigers have played three good to decent teams and managed to win one. If they win one of their next two games (at Arkansas, at LSU) they'll have done more to earn the spot.

25. Connecticut (unranked)
I thought about this one a while. Is Purdue, who's still only lost one game to my #2 team, more deserving? How about Georgia, with two losses both to ranked teams and having played four conference games already. Michigan, who's rebounded since starting 0-2? Texas Tech, a dropped pass away from 6-0? Nope. And six weeks into the season, winning all of your games starts to count for something.

On The Cusp

Clemson (20)
Clemson's annual October tailspin appears to have begun. Can Spiller & Davis turn it around?

Georgia (15)
A loss like that is just embarrassing for a defense that was embarassed by the same team last season. Georgia needs to find more consistency on both sides of the ball to match their talent level.

Well hey whaddaya know, they're 5-1. And starting 7-5 in the face.

Back to back good wins at Rutgers and hosting Georgia Tech.

Against Appalachian State, Northwestern, and now Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines have continued to play to the level of their opposition. Too bad they didn't do that against Oregon.

Purdue was clearly a product of their schedule and Ohio State erased any doubts about that. However if the Boilermakers can win at Michigan, they'll have accomplished something rankings-worthy.

Rutgers (25)
The State Universise of New Jersey has now lost two straight home games, and both can be blamed on the defense as Teel has thrown for over 300 in both games. They must stop the losing streak at Syracuse before facing USF and WVU after that.

Texas A&M
The Aggies have an impressive win, but look at how back-loaded their schedule is. Their final four opponents (two road, two home) are all currently ranked, and their next two are road games against teams with a combined 9-3 record. Is 7-5 optimistic?

Texas Tech
Michael Crabtree has caught 17 touchdowns in six games - already breaking the NCAA freshman record held by Mike Johnson and a few others. Ironically it's his dropped TD against OK State that has kept this team from being 6-0. Next week's game vs A&M should vault one of these teams into the top 25.

Of the teams who are actually on my radar, UVA is near the bottom of that list. Nonetheless, after getting embarassed by Wyoming in week 1, they've responded by winning 5 straight. Should they give UConn their first loss next week, we'll have to think about ranking the Cavs.

Upset Week #2! Flip flop again and Week 7 T25

It all started Thursday with the Ol' Ball Coach's 15th win over a fiery Woodson and Kentucky. And they did it in very, convincing fashion. And it didn't stop there. It continued throughout Saturday, with the fall of USC, LSU's close call, and Wisconsin's demise at the hands of Ron Zook and the Illini.

What used to be the norm in college football is no more. The rankings mean less and less as each week goes on as parity continues to show across all the conferences. Oklahoma's redemption in Dallas keeps them in the hunt. Missouri CREAMED Nebraska. Colorado wins their second consecutive conference game. Indiana is rising. Michigan State falls to Northwestern.

This year will likely be another case of controversy, unless LSU scrapes through that difficult SEC schedule unscathed. With Ohio State set very well in the Big 10 (their defense has gotten better than the first five games - which is scary) to go undefeated, and with Cal-USC meeting later this year if the Trojans win it tosses them into the NC picture. At that point you will probably have 1 loss Oklahoma, USC, Cal, and an undefeated Southern Florida and LSU? Three undefeated teams yet again, and will raise the chorus for at least a plus 1 (in 2011) and maybe a little more in the future.

So without further ado - here's this week's Top 25.

#1 LSU - What else is there to say? Les Miles was 5/5 in 4th down decisions down the stretch, and Hester got the crucial first down and the game-winning touchdown. The grit, will, and pure strength on the goal line... they did what they had to in the final minutes to pull this one out in the Bayou. That game will probably foreshadow what is to come for the rest of the Tigers' schedule.

#2 OSU - If it wasn't for Boeckman's 3 interceptions - all his fault for putting too much air under the ball - this game would have been a blowout. The defense was completely stingy, only giving up the touchdown in the final minutes. With this defense the Bucks can sweep the Big 10 and be in contention for the National Championship. They jump Cal in my rankings due to this performance.

#3 Cal - They had a bye.

#4 USF - South Florida played a fairly gimme game, though it did not look that way in the beginning. However they came back and kept FAU at bay. With USC and Wisconsin's fall they rise to #4.

#5 South Carolina - defeated a very, very strong Kentucky team, and now becomes the front-runner to win the SEC East with Florida falling. Their excellent special teams play and defense will keep them in the hunt if they can take down the rest of their SEC schedule... which will be tough as they'll face Florida Nov 10th.

#6 Boston College - Another great win for Matt Ryan and the Eagles. Convincing win against BGSU isn't that great, however they face VaTech in two weeks and will really show who's who in the ACC.

#7 Oklahoma - A great win against Texas in one of college football's biggest rivalries. McCoy made huge mistakes on the final drive that could have tied the game, and OU's defense just swarmed to the ball.

#8 Virginia Tech - Closes the door on Clemson, and is on the forefront of the ACC Coastal with Virginia. Their offense finally arrived!

#9 WVU - I hate to put them back in the Top 10 but the fall of Florida, Wisconsin, and USC they make it back in.

#10 USC - They should not have fallen to Stanford, but I don't have the heart to put the Ducks ahead of the Trojans at this time.

11 Oregon
12 Florida
13 Missouri
14 Kentucky
15 Arizona State
16 Hawaii
17 Cincinnati
18 Illinois
19 Kansas
20 Wisconsin
21 Texas A&M
22 Virginia
23 Texas Tech
24 Tennessee
25 Texas