Friday, November 2

In Contendium

I have a confession to make. I use the word “confession” in the loosest sense here; I didn’t kill anybody or anything like that. I just completely forgot to post any blog updates for the last, oh, 5 months or so. I blame work – well, work and laziness. Kudos go out to James and Russ for keeping this going in my absence.

More than anything else, I feel bad for not posting anything about what’s probably the most exciting college football season I’ve ever seen; I don’t know yet whether it’s actual team parity or a rash of senior leadership among teams that historically aren’t that good; my guess is it’s a combination of both. I wouldn’t have put Kentucky down as a top team going into the season, but considering they gave LSU their only loss, they would qualify – at worst – as “not bad.” Of course, then they turn around and lose to Vanderbilt; so much for that.

I could probably wax poetic on this season for an hour or so (actually, my guess would be 80 minutes; that’s how long the flight I’m on is; more on that in a bit). I’m just going to skip that entirely and cut to the chase: who do I see as actual contenders for a championship?

1: Ohio State. This would qualify as the obvious choice for a few reasons. First, there’s nobody else in the Big 10 who would even remotely qualify as a title contender. Secondly, OSU is putting together a pretty impressive defensive show, and they were – up until last week’s obliteration of Penn State – doing it relatively quietly. I’m not sure they’re the most talented team in the land, but they’re the best-scheduled team in the land at worst. They’ll catch a minor break this week with (what’s looking like) a Wisconsin team that’s short one P.J. Hill. If they get past that, they face what is realistically a winnable game at Michigan to close out the season, although the Wolverines have come on strong late.

2. Oregon. Why Oregon and not LSU? Oregon has two major advantages on LSU: remaining games and no conference championship game. Oregon’s toughest game will be a pivotal battle against Arizona State (who, on a side note, is the one team I can’t believe is doing this well. I swear they’re 8-0 going on 8-4, but I thought they were 7-0 going on 7-5 last week, too) before an easy walk down the last part of their schedule – sorry, Oregon State. Their D is great for a Pac-10 team – and good by almost any other measure. Two great games against Michigan and USC coupled with a good game against Cal actually have me ….kind of believing in the Ducks D. I never thought I’d type that. On offense, they have a legitimate Heisman contender in QB Dennis Dixon and what’ll be at worst a 2nd-team Pac-10 RB Jonathan Stewart. The only fair point I can see against the Ducks is the injuries among their WR corps could leave them hurting against a team that can stop the run – and stop a dual-threat QB.

3: Boston College. I wonder if Tom O’Brien cries himself to sleep at night – although the Wolfpack haven’t done too badly for themselves (it’s a typical NC State hot/cold season), BC is currently undefeated and #2 in the BCS at this point in time. Why do I have them at #3 in my contender list? I don’t trust their schedule; they close with Florida St., Maryland, and Clemson (plus another game that I’m forgetting offhand; one of the downsides of writing on a plane is that you can’t look up schedules without internet access) and the Virginia Tech game was the toughest game they’d played to date. That is, unless you’re Lou Holtz – then the VT game was the 2nd toughest, behind Notre Dame. Matt Ryan is at worst all that and a bag of chips, Andre Callender is a solid frontline RB, and the defense is getting the job done without LB Brian Toal, who’s been out all season. They’ve done well so far and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they win out, but I think they have a difficult road ahead of them. Unlike Ohio State, if they lose they’re toast. (OSU still has a shot of losing and making it to the title game, especially if it’s a close/late loss.)

4: LSU. This Tiger team scared the hell out of me early in the season, and if they were still playing like that I’d have them above everyone else even with a loss. However, I haven’t seen the ferocity on offense in the last few weeks and the defense has stopped taking it personally when teams score on them. Their lone loss so far was tough – 3-OT games on the road are a killer even if the team you face isn’t great, let alone a high-flying Kentucky team. LSU’s biggest obstacle is their schedule (sense a recurring theme?); the SEC has been tough top to bottom yet again this year. The only real weaklings are Ole Miss (nearly beat Florida), Arkansas (who has the most explosive 1-2 RB tandem in the country), and Vanderbilt (who just beat Kentucky). Good god. Anyway, LSU does get two of those teams down the stretch, but they also get to face Saban in devil’s clothing – plus whoever the hell comes out of that mess that’s the SEC East. I almost feel bad for Florida (but not really).

5. West Virginia. Yes, it’s the same West Virginia team we always see about this time of year – but who’s going to stop them? They played their tough loss already (South Florida), Louisville’s in a down year, Rutgers is a step below last year’s team, and Cincinnati’s self-destructing. Who’s to say they don’t go 11-1 and sneak in if everything above them gets blown to hell? They have the raw offensive power to succeed with Pat White, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmidt, and Noel Devine; if their defense can at least kind of hold, they should cruise.

6: Oklahoma. I keep on forgetting about the Sooners, yet they’re sitting on one loss with basically a free pass to 12-1 (counting the championship game). They have all the ingredients of a great team: fantastic D, strong passing game, capable ground game. I just don’t remember they exist – that early-season loss to Colorado is tough to erase, I suppose.

7: Arizona State. I’ll freely admit the low ranking here is bias, but I don’t see what makes this team as good as they are. Yes, they own a win over Cal – but they still have two tough games left in Oregon and USC. Their starting RB – Ryan Torain – is out for the season, and although their backup (whose name slips my mind at the moment; damn you, lack of internet) is definitely more than capable, I don’t see the dream lasting. They’re 8-0 going on 8-4 – well, they’re probably 8-0 going on 10-2, but still.

There’s a few also-rans floating around as well – Florida (killer schedule), Georgia (way to turn it on late, guys – but you may not even make the conference championship game), Hawai’i (play in the contiguous 48 and we may notice; I don’t like saying it, but it’s the truth), Kentucky/South Carolina (two teams on up years who slid downhill recently), South Florida (good against WVU; bad against UConn), USC (don’t lose to Stanford), Cal (good wins, tough losses), Mizzou (love the team, but you need 11-1 out of the Big 12 North right now), Michigan (….App State, duh), etc. I know I’m leaving teams out, but I’d rather not get on a Jamesian-length dissertation about why these teams aren’t going to compete for a title.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks – they should be exciting. At the very least, they’ll clear up some of the mess at the top. Knowing the way this season’s gone, though, one of two things will probably happen:
1 – Everyone loses at least once
2 – Only Oregon and/or Arizona St. lose before the season’s over.

Fasten your seatbelts. (No, really. We’re landing now, and they just told us to do that.)