The Top 24 - Week 3
1. Ohio State (W vs. Cincinnati 37-7)
Last week: 1
I remember exactly where I was in 2002 when Cincinnati led Ohio State deep into the 4th quarter and narrowly missed a game-winning TD in the closing minutes. Those memories were flashing through my mind as the Bearcats once again took a lead on the Buckeyes, but this time Ohio State ended the suspense pretty quickly. While I still feel that the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes are nowhere near a great team - I would take the 2005 Buckeyes over these guys in a heartbeat - I also recognize that this is a supremely confident Ohio State squad. They calmly regained control of the game behind Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman and cruised to another victory. Given the state of the Big 10 I wish we could fast-forward through the formalities of the Penn State and Iowa beat-downs straight to the OSU-Michigan game that's starting to look like a potential Game of the Year candidate.
2. Southern Cal (W vs. #20 Nebraska 28-10)
Last week: 3
Another ranked opponent, another easy win for the Trojans. Among the most impressive aspects of the USC run has been the ease with which they dispatch their opponents no matter what the name on the front of the jersey says. In the 2004 National Championship game the Trojans steamrolled Oklahoma with the same efficiency that they destroyed Oregon State or Stanford. In this game a talented Nebraska team was handled was dominated like so much WAC fodder. Due to the regional broadcast I didn't get to see much of this game, but the Trojan defense seems to be coming on strong as John David Booty picks up where Matt Leinart left off. If you listen hard enough you can already hear Dan Fouts pimping him for the Heisman after the Trojans destroy Notre Dame in November. Sadly, it looks like a wide-open path to the BCS Title Game for USC, unless Oregon can get the refs from the Oklahoma game reinstated in time for their showdown in November.
3. Auburn (W vs. #3 LSU 7-3)
Last week: 4
Auburn can start making travel arrangements for Atlanta after their big win over LSU ("big" here referring to the magnitude of the victory, not the four-point margin by which said victory was achieved). This was gritty, ugly, old-school SEC football and ultimately the Tigers just seemed to want it more. Despite being held in check by LSU's maniacal defense Kenny Irons ran with a reckless abandon that seemed to inspire his teammates, while the Auburn secondary did a great job against LSU's impressive arsenal of stud WRs. While the game itself may have set back offensive football by 20 years Auburn showed that the timeless qualities of determination and persistence still equate to winning football. The meager offensive output leaves them behind Southern Cal, but if the Auburn wins out I would argue that they're more deserving of a BCSCG berth than any Pac 10 school. Of course, we've heard this argument before...
4. Michigan (W vs. #5 Notre Dame 47-21)
Last week: 7
On a day of huge games around the country it was Michigan's complete and utter destruction of Notre Dame that made the biggest impact. I was wiped out by the end of the game...not from excitement, but from getting up every five minutes to let the guys out on the porch know that Mario Manningham had just abused the Notre Dame secondary for another touchdown. Michigan's coaches did a great job of exposing the Golden Domers flaws, and you can bet that every team the Irish play for the foreseeable future - like, maybe, a certain team from East Lansing - will try to imitate Michigan's game plan
The best part of this game for me (other than watching Brady Quinn struggle to hold back tears) was the post-game press conference when Lloyd Carr just sat there looking like a 5-year-old on Christmas, not quite sure what he did to deserve such a wonderful bounty of goodness and completely overwhelmed at the sheer awesomeness of it all...but also with a little "F%#@ all you sportswriters and bandwagon fans!" twinkle in his eye. Thank you Michigan for giving me a reason to smile last Saturday.
5. Louisville (W vs. #17 Miami 31-7)
Last week: 6
If it weren't for Michigan abusing Notre Dame this would have been the statement game of the weekend. First Miami embarrassed themselves with their logo-stomping antics, then it was the Cardinals turn to embarrass the 'Canes by blowing them off the field with precision execution on offense and hellion abandon on offense. How did a Louisville team with a bunch of Big Three rejects destroy the 'Canes so thoroughly? Confidence and coaching.
I became a huge Bobby Petrino fan on the play after Brian Brohm was knocked out the game (by the way Bobby, real estate is cheap in Tallahassee. I'm just saying...). In came the back-up QB, and out flew a perfectly thrown post-pattern that snuffed out any flicker of hope the 'Canes had left. If there's one lesson to learn from the past weekend it's that aggression is rewarded in football, and the coaches that knew how to go for the jugular were the guys smiling after the game. On the other hand, it was shocking to see how fragile the psyche of the 'Canes has become. Once Charlie Jones fumbled inside the UM 10-yard-line the Hurricanes seemed resigned to their fate even though they still had the lead. More than any other factor is this lack of confidence that should ensure Larry Coker's departure from Coral Gables.
6. Florida (W vs. #16 Tennessee 21-20)
Last week: 7
As much as I hate to do it, I have to give props to the Gators. They were the only one of the Big Three who didn't blink in the face of adversity. While FSU fell apart at the very end and UM lost it completely, the Crocs showed great composure in putting together a game-winning TD drive after Tennessee had seized momentum with James Wilhoit's 52-yard FG. You can question the INT that was called back on a terrible Roughing the Passer call, you can question the Tennessee D for not crowding the box anytime Tim Tebow entered the game, but you can't question the determination and precision with which Florida executed in the 4th quarter.
7. West Virginia (W vs. Maryland 45-24)
Last week: 9
Everyone expected West Virginia to roll over Maryland, but it was supposed to take longer than 15 minutes! Steve Slaton renewed his BadAss license by romping through the Terps' defense for yet another huge night, while Pat White provided the perfect complement in the speed option. Do they deserve to play for the National Title? Hell no. But give the Mountaineers credit, they've resurrected something special in Morgantown that many thought we'd seen the last of: a dominant running team that can compete at the highest levels. Not since mid-'90s Nebraska has a team so thoroughly dominated on the ground. I'm getting all giddy just thinking about the land-vs.-air battle that will ensue when West Virginia invades Louisville on November 2nd.
8. LSU (L vs. #4 Auburn 3-7)
Last week: 2
The last of my bandwagon teams bites the dust, just as everyone was climbing on board. While the defense was at its hellion death-squad best, the erratic play of the mercurial Jamarcus Russell doomed LSU (and not a missed call, as some LSU fans have claimed). With two star receivers and the experienced Russell calling the shots I expected LSU to show a lot more on offense, but maybe the loss of Joseph Addai and several key offensive linemen was just too much to overcome. Or maybe Jimbo Fisher is going all Jeff Bowden on us. Or maybe both, who knows? All I know is that with this loss LSU will be hard-pressed to return to Atlanta unless Auburn pulls a major choke-job.
9. Texas (W vs. Rice 52-7)
Last week: 8
I love the talent at Texas. The Longhorns probably have the best pair of running backs in the nation, the offensive line is one of the best around, and Limas Sweed is the real deal. On defense they have a bunch of QB-seaking missiles on the defensive line and speed demons at linebacker. The one thing they lack - and that every team above them has - is a veteran leader at QB. I'm convinced that a college football team can overcome anything - bad coaching, bad officials, and bad luck - if they're talented enough. But bad QB play will kill any team at any level, and Texas is no exception. Until their baby signal-callers grow up Texas stays at the back of the pack.
10. Notre Dame (L vs. #10 Michigan 21-47)
Last week: 5
Every flaw in Notre Dame was exploited to perfection by Michigan. Their soft interior defense was exposed by Michael Hart to the tune of 124 yards and a TD. The weak secondary was demolished by Mario Manningham and an OC who actually decided to use his star receiver in the second half (sorry, but I'm still pretty pissed about Patrick Nix's inexplicable Calvin Johnson embargo during the Georgia Tech game). Best of all, the offense that has always been more one-dimensional than most people realized was totally disrupted thanks to the constant pressure applied by the Wolverines. Make no mistake, Notre Dame is still a solid team that is extremely well-coached, but they finally ran into the perfect storm: a more-talented team, combined with a coaching staff that knew how to utilize that talent to hit all the pressure points, much like Ohio State in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Michigan must have watched that tape closely, because they used the same game plan with the same result... a severe beat-down of the Fighting Irish.
11. Virginia Tech (W vs. Duke 36-0)
Last week: 11
It's very difficult to accurately rank the Hokies considering the pathetic schedule they've played so far. Still, lots of teams have feasted on cupcakes and few have been as impressive as Virginia Tech in dismantling the opposition. The defense and running game have been better than expected, and although the QB spot still seems unsettled the talent is there to have a good. I haven't forgotten the Hokies propensity to fall apart in November, but at this point they get bonus points for being one of only two ACC teams that haven't completely embarrassed the league yet. The other one - Georgia Tech - comes calling next Saturday, when we may finally find out what the Hokies are made of.
12. Georgia (W vs. UAB 34-0)
Last week: 12
Well, it may be a little early to start the "Matt Stafford 4 Heisman" campaign, but with a backfield that's deeper than the Nietzsche and a death squad defense who cares? Georgia is the only team in the nation that has yet to give up a single point and that's impressive no matter who you play. Can they run the table with true freshman Stafford under center? Well, they're ranked below Florida so you know what I think. But with that Dawg Pound D anything is possible.
13. Georgia Tech (W vs. Troy 35-20)
Last week: 13
You'd think that all of my friends who gave me so much shit after FSU struggled with Troy would offer their profuse apologies after seeing Tech struggle against the Trojans into the 4th-quarter. Of course, you'd be wrong. Tech did a better job than FSU of executing on offense, which is why they handled Troy by a wider margin, but Reggie Ball still scares the hell out of me. Still, Calvin Johnson and a great defense will take you pretty far in the world of college football. Quick question; is there any way we can trade Troy for NC State?
14. Oregon (W vs. Oklahoma 34-33)
Last week: 17
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all seen the replays and we all know that Oregon was the beneficiary of some horrendous and inexplicable officiating errors against Oklahoma, but the Ducks should get all the credit in the world for taking the breaks they got and turning them into game-winning points. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the country, but Jonathan Stewart isn't far behind, and Dennis Dixon is legit. I don't know if Oregon has a realistic shot at USC, but it should be a whole lot of fun finding out.
15. Clemson (W vs. #15 Florida State 27-20)
Last week: 21
Is it wrong that during the entire game I wanted to hunt down Will Proctor's dad and punch him in the throat? Proctor played well, but I have a hard time seeing all the good things Clemson did for all the bad plays on FSU's side. Still, you've got to give the Tigers' coaches credit. The end-zone throw on third-and-one was a great call, and the hurry-up snap in the fourth-quarter was a thing of beauty. Plus, James Davis is a total stud. The talent gap between the Atlantic Division powers has officially been closed. As much as I can fault Jeff Bowden for the loss, Clemson did a better job on the sidelines and they deserved the win. Now if I could just find the Proctor's home address.
16. Tennessee (L vs. #7 Florida 20-21)
Last week: 16
I actually thought Tennessee became a little over-rated after their big win over Cal. Sometimes in college football certain games spiral out of control... all the breaks go one way, or a team gets the early momentum, and the team on the wrong side of things gets totally derailed. That seemed to be the case on week 1, and I thought the Vols close call against Air Force was a better indication of their ability. So I was pleasantly surprised at the level of poise and control Tennessee showed on offense and the speed and skill of the Tennessee defense. They should have beaten Florida, plain and simple. I wasn't sure they belonged this high before but they played well enough in losing that my impression of them actually improved. Great defense, Phil Fulmer stretching his Dockers to the breaking point, and choking against Florida - the Vols are back!
17. Boston College (W vs. BYU 30-23)
Last week: 10
If there were any Boston College fans that actually read this blog I'm sure they would point out that BC just beat Clemson and surely deserves to be ranked higher than the Tigers. I respectfully disagree. Although the Eagles won the game, Clemson outplayed them and was unfortunate to take the loss. Then Clemson followed up the game by beating FSU on the road while BC was severely tested at home by BYU. Sorry, Eagles, but I still think Clemson is the better team.
18. TCU (W vs. #23 Texas Tech 12-3)
Last week: NR
Three points? THREE POINTS??? Any time you hold Texas Tech to three measly points you're playing some mad defense. On the strength of that D the Horned Frogs finally crack the Chop Shop Top 24. Let the celebrations in Waco commence!
19. Oklahoma (L vs. #14 Oregon 33-34)
Last week: NR
The only possible reason Oklahoma was included in many top 10 lists after Rhett Bomar's dismissal was the defense that, as we were all told, was a cross between the '85 Bears and Sauron's Ringwraiths. Well, fantasy was definitely the right genre to discuss because this Oklahoma D is nowhere near as good as the fearsome units that were featured on Bob Stoops' earlier teams. Stoops and the Oklahoma administration can whine and cry all they want (and they've shown no sign of letting up), but as bad as the refs were it was the defense that ultimately let the Sooners down. However, Adrian Peterson by himself is better than half the I-A teams in the nation. On the strength of his unbelievable skills we welcome Oklahoma back to the Top 24.
20. Iowa (W vs. Iowa State 27-17)
Last week: 19
21. California (W vs. Portland State 42-16)
Last week: 22
You get no credit in this poll for blowing out Portland State. Cal is still in the rankings solely on our belief that Marshawn Lynch is a stone-cold badass and that the Tennessee game was a fluky amalgam of bad luck and home-team mojo run amuck. We'll find out a lot more about the Bears this weekend when they welcome the enigma that is Arizona State to Berkeley.
22. Nebraska (L vs. #2 Southern Cal 10-28)
Last week: 20
While the defense is quite possibly the real deal we still don't believe that Bill Callahan will ever get Nebraska over the hump, and the Cornhuskers uninspired effort in the second half against USC only reinforces that opinion. There has been undeniable improvement but Nebraska is a long way removed from the elite status they so desperately crave.
23. Florida State (L vs. #21 Clemson 20-27)
Last week: 15
I didn't even watch this game. What happened? Who won? Wait, what's that? I did watch it...and I've written two colums bitching about it already??? Hmmmmm, I must be repressing all the rage I have over Jeff Bowden's unbelievably incompetent display of play-calling and the depths to which he's dragged the once-proud Seminoles. In the '90s losing to anyone at home was unacceptable. In year six of the Jeff Bowden Experience it's not even shocking anymore. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go eviscerate myself with a melon-baller.
Bobby explaining that it's not like golf... in football you want a HIGHER score than your opponent. Note how all this new information gives Jeff a splitting headache.
24. UCLA (bye)
Last week: 24
Still clinging to the rankings on the strength of their week one domination of Utah and the fact that they didn't have the chance to embarrass themselves last Saturday. Still, unless they show me something against an improved Washington squad I'm looking hard at moving a Big 10 team (Penn State? Wisconsin?) into this spot. Or maybe an ACC team, if only for comic relief.
What Did I Ever See In You??? … Miami(#17), Texas Tech (#23)