Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Top 24 - Sept. 6, 2006

Wow, what a week of college football! Okay, so most of the top teams feasted on an array of cupcakes that would make Andy Samberg jealous. Still, there were some compelling games, some surprising upsets, and enough drama to whip up the frenzy for next week’s Clash of the Titans in Austin (and that’s nothing compared to what’s coming up on 9/16). Without further ado, here’s hard evidence of how bad I screwed up my pre-season Top 24…

1. Ohio State (W vs. Northern Illinois 35-12)
Last week: 1

I actually did okay with this one. Ted Ginn and Troy Smith made it look ridiculously easy to rip through a decent MAC defense, and Antonio Pittman and the RBs were extremely impressive. Most importantly, the young Buckeye defense looked pretty good, though they'll have to play better run defense against Texas' stable of stud RBs. On a side note; Mike D'Andrea, we wish you the best.

2. Texas (W vs. North Texas 56-7)
Last week: 4
What an impressive debut for the impressively named Colt McCoy! Three TD tosses – including one on his third career attempt – and the longest run of the day for the Longhorns. That last stat may be a bit disconcerting for a team that will supposedly be run-oriented, but there wasn’t much need to unleash the hounds against North Texas. Big question: will the Eugene Robinson Rule kick into effect in the wake of Terrell Brown's arrest on weapons and drug charges? You don’t want to go into the Game of the Year with bad mojo…

3. Southern Cal (W vs. Arkansas 50-14)
Last week: 5
It’s not easy to go on the road against a talented SEC opponent that’s been gearing up for the game all summer. You could argue the “talented” portion of that statement in regards to Arkansas, but you can’t argue with the unholy beat-down administered by the Trojans. When the team you just defeated winds up going through massive roster turmoil and the coach's ass starts getting warm from that hot seat you know you just opened up a can of Special Reserve Triple Bock Whup-Ass.

4. LSU (W vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 45-3)
Last week: 2
Wow, one week and I've already abandoned my wild-card #2 pick. LSU didn’t really do anything that deserves a drop in the rankings; it’s just that Southern Cal was more impressive against better competition. I still like all the talent the Tigers can put on the field and they are still my pick for SEC Champion. They’ve got some catching up to do to the big 3 but they’ll get plenty of opportunities to prove their worthiness in the coming weeks.

5. Clemson (W vs. Florida Atlantic 54-6)
In my pre-season rankings I had three bandwagon teams in the Top 10. One bandwagon had the wheels come off (Cal) and one busted an axle (Louisville), but Clemson cruised against FAU and showed off their impressive array of talented skill position players. Will Proctor had a strong debut, James Davis was his steady self, the under-appreciated Reggie Meriweather had some strong runs, and lightning-quick Jacoby Ford ran a kick back for 92 yards or so (that should be a recurring theme this year, btw). We’ll know all we need to know about Clemson after the next two games, but so far they deserve to occupy this lofty spot.

6. Louisville (W vs. Kentucky 59-28)
Last week: 6
Our heart goes out to Michael Bush, who made a noble move by returning to Louisville and would have been one of the premier players in the country. Mr. Bush will be fine once he starts cashing those NFL checks in 10 months but it’s a shame college football fans were deprived of their last chance to see his formidable skills at this level. I flirted with the idea of dropping Louisville, but they’re still dangerous so for now they stay here until we see how Bobby Petrino and Brian Brohm will handle life without Bush.

7. Auburn (W vs. Washington State 40-14)
Last week: 9
In case you didn’t know, Kenny Irons is really good. His 189-yard performance was very impressive. Still, my main concern with Auburn wasn’t the rushing offense, it was the rushing defense. Let the record show that Auburn gave up 7.5 yards/rush to Washington State. The players may have been confused since they were probably expecting The Citadel to show up instead of a real team. Maybe it was just a fluke, but LSU and UGA will surely test that run D even more than the Cougars did.

8. Florida (W vs. Southern Miss 34-7)
Last week: 10
I don’t know what it is but I just don’t think Florida deserves to be this high. Urban Meyer can point to some good things so far in his tenure, especially wins over UGA, Tennessee, and FSU. And yet, the team as a whole hasn’t come close to living up to his hype. The running game is still painfully anemic (and this is coming from an FSU fan!), the offense doesn’t look smooth, and despite what UF fans would tell you I still think they have the third-best defense in the state. If Tennessee’s defense can play at the level they did this past Saturday they'll give UF fits. For the time being the Gators deserve to be ranked ahead of last year’s victims, so here they are. For now.

9. Notre Dame (W vs. Georgia Tech 14-10)
Last week: 3
That was the #3 team in the country? How could I have been so blind, how could I fall for the Notre Dame hype machine that badly? HOW??? After watching Georgia Tech thoroughly outplay Notre Dame in the first half it became clear that the Irish are thoroughly beatable. Georgia Tech was the victim of bad play-calling, a waning defense, and a terrible helmet-to-helmet call that swung the balance in Notre Dame’s favor. I was not impressed at all with the Irish’s physical abilities (except maybe Rhema McKnight). It is solely the inventiveness of Charlie Weis and the steady confidence he's instilled in the team that makes them Top 10 caliber, but teams with more depth and better coaching than GT will find the Irish to be easy pickings. Penn State isn’t that team, but Michigan just may be.

10. Florida State (W vs. #14 Miami 13-10)
Last week: 12
I felt that four big questions had to be answered in order for the Seminoles to be successful:
(1) Can they rebuild the offensive line? Miami didn’t lay a finger on Drew Weatherford all night, but the running game was shut down. Incomplete so far.
(2) Can they replace the lost talent on the DLine? UM had two yards rushing and Kyle Wright was sacked four times. Ummm, I think the DL is okay,
(3) Will the undersized, inexperienced secondary kill them? JR Bryant was a liability at times, but I didn’t see Tony Carter give up a pass all night and Michael Ray Garvin ended the game with a pick. Incomplete until they play Clemson.
(4) How will they replace the leadership of Leon Washington? Did you happen to notice a guy named Buster Davis on Monday night? How about Drew Weatherford raising his game in the 2nd half? I think we’re good here.
So FSU answered a lot of questions on Labor Day, but 1 rushing yard does not a dynasty make. The OL looked tons better, but until they start opening some holes for the RBs the ‘Noles won’t rise much higher than this.

11. West Virginia (W vs. Marshall 42-10)
Last week: 13
I’m still torn about the Mountaineers. Slaton and White are as talented as any duo in the country but I just can’t take WVU seriously until they beat somebody, and with Michael Bush’s injury they may not get the chance to face an elite opponent until January. I just checked their schedule and it’s even worse than I remembered. The sad thing is this could actually be one of the best teams in the country but absolutely no one can take them seriously because of the Big East. It's a damn shame.

12. Iowa (W vs. Montana 41-7)
Last week: 16
I’m still thinking Iowa is going to be a disappointment this year, but with Drew Tate and Albert Young looking good I can’t put them below any of lower-ranked teams. Still, that defensive back seven scares the crap out of me, and at some point a Big Ten team is going to realize the don't need to cover the Hawkeye receivers. So here’s compromise: I’ll move them up in the rankings, and then when they lose I’ll claim I only did it because a bunch of Iowa corn farmers threatened to cut off the supply of ethanol-E85 to Georgia, thus making flex-feul cars useless in this state.

13. Virginia Tech (W vs. Northeastern 38-0)
Last week: 18
Granted Northeastern isn’t a good measuring stick, but VaTech was the only Top 24 team to register a shut-out on week 1 which has to count for something. On top of that Sean Glennon looked good in his first start. If Glennon turns out to be the real deal the Hokies will be dangerous, considering how much talent they have in the receiving corps. With Miami’s loss and Georgia Tech's ongoing employment of Chan Gailey the Hokies suddenly find themselves in the driver’s seat for a spot in the ACCCG. For 'Nole fans that's music to our ears.

14. Michigan (W vs. Vanderbilt 27-7)
Last week: 11
How in the hell did Michigan get tested by VANDERBILT? I realize the Wolverines were never in any real danger of losing the game, and maybe I’m giving too much weight to the final score, but VANDERBILT?? You needed to rush Michael Hart 31 times against VANDERBILT??? On the plus side the defense looked solid, Hart looked 100%, and the Wolverine receivers looked like they'll be very tough this year. Speaking of which; VANDERBILT?!? A three-spot demotion for Michigan, and they’re getting off light.

15. Tennessee (W vs. #8 California 35-18)
Last week: NR
By far the best win of the weekend was Tennessee’s demolition of Cal. The receivers looked like the five-star prospects they were coming out of high school, QB Eric Ainge played a sound game, and the play-calling was light-years better. And the defense - sweet Jesus, the defense! The Vols had so much speed on D that poor Marshawn Lynch’s Heisman chances were run right out of town. It will be extremely interesting to see how Tennessee's DL matches up with UF's OL in two weeks.

16. Georgia (W vs. Western Kentucky 48-12)
Last week: 15
The good news…UGA is stacked with great RBs, they have a talented defense, and their punt returner will never celebrate prematurely again the rest of his life. The bad news…their QB stinks. If Mark Richt honestly thinks he’s going to win behind JTIII he may not be the offensive genius people mistake him for (as an attendee at the 2000 Orange Bowl I can attest to that). Unless the Dawgs want to see 11-man fronts for the rest of the year they need to get Matthew Stafford a bit more involved in the offensive flow, and Tereshinski a bit more involved in the calling-in-signals-from-the-sideline flow. One-spot demotion for the Dawgs.

17. Oregon (W vs. Stanford 48-10)
Last week: 20
Finally, a team that’s UNDERrated. The Ducks have a talented core of offensive players with the wildly underrated Jonathan Stewart, the steady Dennis Dixon, and some guy named Garren Strong who’s apparently pretty good. But the poor overall showing by the Pac-10 has left a bitter taste in my mouth and is really the only think that kept me from moving them up higher. The fact that they beat up on a Pac-10 patsy didn’t help either. A couple more impressive performances, though, and the Ducks will be on the move.

18. Penn State (W vs. Akron 34-16)
Last week: 23
I actually took a little heat for ranking the Nittany Lions so low in the pre-season rankings. Needless to say, an 18-point win over Akron has me feeling pretty good about my assessment of Penn State. By all accounts Anthony Morelli was hit-and-miss in his debut and the running game was pretty flat. This may be a very good team by the end of the year, and definitely will be in 2007, but I’ll be shocked if they beat Notre Dame next week. By the way, check out the picture on the right if you want to know why I have mad respect for Penn State. Say what you want about JoePa, but the man's a class-act and his program reflects that.

19. Georgia Tech (L vs. #3 Notre Dame 10-14)
Last week: 24
I think the Jackets deserve at LEAST a five-spot promotion for playing the heralded Irish toe-to-toe. Calvin Johnson was easily the best player on the field, and the defense contained the vaunted Irish attack for most of the game. If not for a HIGHLY questionable call in the third quarter the game would have been tied (maybe) heading into the final quarter. To be clear, I thought ND was the better team overall and they deserved to win the game, but Tech showed they have the talent to play with the big boys. The only real disparity on Saturday night was on the sidelines, where Charlie Weis simply out-coached Chan Gailey. Who could have seen that coming?

20. Nebraska (W vs. Louisiana Tech 49-10)
Last week: 21
As if facing the Louisiana Tech juggernaut in week 1 wasn’t enough, now Nebraska must gear up to face might Nicholls State. Who the hell set up this schedule, Bill Snyder? Couldn't have been the old K-State coach, because after Nicholls State they play some school called ‘Southern Cal’. I hear they’re pretty good. I'll be rooting for the Huskers in that game for the simple reason that no one in the pac-10 looks capable of stopping the Trojans. Hopefully the 'Huskers are up to the task, but it's hard to gauge them off of this game.

21. Miami (L vs. #12 Florida State 10-13)
Last week: 14
I almost wish Miami was still in the Big East just so I could see their immovable front seven go up against West Virginia’s unstoppable running game. Oh, and their secondary is unbelievable. Unfortunately they didn’t make much headway with the offense. I couldn’t be more please about the Rich Olsen hire. His playcalling in the 2nd half was terrible. Kyle Wright still looks overrated as well. He's got plenty of physical ability but lacks insticts. Plus no one that looks that much like Dustin Diamond can be taken seriously. That unholy defense will win them a lot of games, but unless they get better offensive coaching and something resembling an offensive line they’re going to be slumming here in the dregs of the Top 24.

22. UCLA (W vs. #22 Utah 31-10)
Last week: NR
Tennessee’s win over Cal was might impressive, but it was another Pac-10 school that provided the weekend’s other big win. UCLA overcame the loss of a talented QB named Olsen by plugging in…another talented QB named Olsen. Ben Olsen, the former #1-ranked prospect, looked tremendous is his debut as the starter and was instrumental in leading UCLA past the Utes. The Pac-10 desperately needs another team to step up besides USC, and right now it’s looking like a two-team race for second between UCLA and Oregon. We'll give the edge to the Bruins just based on the uniforms.

23. Texas Tech (W vs. Southern Methodist 35-3)
Last week: 19
The Texas Tech I know would have put up 60 against SMU. Is Mike Leach going soft, or is the transition to sophomore Graham Harrell not going as smoothly as expected? With their embarrassment of riches at WR Tech could still turn into a dangerous team, but at this point I remain unimpressed. Their defense still has holes, and with the loss of Taurean Henderson no one knows of they have a running game. They remain in the rankings for now, but they're on the brink.

24. California (L vs. Tennessee 35-18)
Last week: 8

“Bandwagon pick #3, and the one I feel is most likely to blow up in my face.” That’s how I started my blurb on Cal in the pre-season rankings. Blow up is an understatment for what happened to Cal, but I’m going to give the Golden Bears a break. It’s not easy to go on the road (especially Neyland Stadium) with an inexperienced QB and face a talented team that’s been gearing up all season for the game. Cal still has some talent, but they’d better learn how to tackle or they won’t be ranked in anybody’s poll for long.

What Did I Ever See In You??? … Oklahoma (#17), Utah (#22)


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