The Top 24 - Week 4
Hard to believe we're already through the first trimester of the season, but man what a ride it's been already. Almost every team has played a big game at this point, and here's what I've learned:
- There is no dominant team this year. Last season was magnificent from the opening kick-off to the final gun of the Rose Bowl. Everyone sensed that something special was happening, and everyone was right. There will be no Clash of the Titans in Glendale on January 8, but what we have in its place is a wide-open race to the BCS that's sure to end in controversy and bitterness. Good times!
- The SEC is the only conference that hasn't been completely embarrassed yet, though Georgia's near-loss to Colorado was an awfully close call. Perhaps the comference will get thier come-uppance in November when all the ACC/SEC clashes go down (yes you read that right).
- Many pundits seemed to think that Brady Quinn had the Heisman Trophy and the #1 spot in the NFL Draft locked up before the season even started. Many pundits are idiots.
- The national championship race has been whittled down to less than a dozen teams and will be decided by conference schedules. Conference Championship games could also play a big role (Damn you Pac-10! Damn you Big 10(11)! Damn you Big East!). At this point we think there are ten teams that still have a legitimate shot at the crystal football, so this week we'll look at why each team might win it all, and why they may fail miserably.
On to the Top 24...
1. Michigan (W vs. Wisconsin 27-13)
Last week: 4
Why they can win the title: Right now they simply have the best resume of any team. Their KO of the Fighting Irish was the most impressive win of the season so far and the Wolverines are the only team with no glaring weakness. The defense has been rock-solid behind Lamarr Woodley and Prescott Burgess, while a healthy Michael Hart has brought balance and harmony to the offense. When compared objectively to the other top teams they are the most deserving of the #1 spot at this point.
Why they won’t win the title: Lloyd Carr is still the coach right? There was something unsettling in his reaction to the Notre Dame win…you could see the disbelief in his eyes. It was as if he was happy to have won, but had no idea how it happened. I’m still not convinced he’s a big-game coach, and that little tussle with Ohio State at season’s end is going to be as big as they get.
2. Southern Cal (W vs. Arizona 20-3)
Last week: 2
Why they can win the title: Sure the Trojans lost a lot of talent in the off-season, but Pete Carroll has blue-chippers backing up his blue-chippers. Dwayne Jarrett is the best WR in the country and the young RBs have undeniable talent. While the offense is rounding into form the defense has emerged as a fearsome shut-down unit with perhaps the best LB corps in the nation.
Why they won’t win the title: The Trojans haven’t really been tested yet so there’s no way to know how they’ll react when the game is on the line. Matt Leinart’s legend was born on the road at Auburn and was cemented when he hit Jarrett on 4th-down at Notre Dame. Will John David Booty be able to come up with such clutch plays when the Trojans’ backs are against the wall?
3. Ohio State (W vs. Penn State 28-6)
Last week: 1
Why they can win the title: Troy Smith may be the best senior QB in the nation and their arsenal of offensive weaponry is unmatched. Jeremy Gonzalez has had a break-out season opposite Ted Ginn while the underrated backfield has turned in a number of big plays. There is still plenty of speed and skill on the other side of the ball as well.
Why they won’t win the title: For the second straight year Smith was handled by Penn State, what will happen against Michigan's superior D? The Buckeyes are loaded on offense, but their conservative play-calling tends to keep even their inferior opponents in the game. The defense has given up chunks of yardage on the ground and they haven’t been tested by a good QB yet.
4. Auburn (W vs. Buffalo 38-7)
Last week: 3
Why they can win the title: Defense, defense, defense. I was concerned about the Tigers’ undersized front seven coming into the season but they were magnificent against LSU. The Auburn D flies around the field creating havoc and shutting down the run while David Irons and the secondary make life miserable for opposing WRs. David’s brother Kenny is pretty good too, in case you haven’t heard.
Why they won’t win the title: Brandon Cox seems like a “caretaker” QB to me, ala Craig Krenzel, as opposed to a playmaker like Troy Smith. True, you can win titles with a caretaker QB but everything has to fall into place on defense and special teams. Plus, Krenzel had Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble to throw to. Who does Cox have? Other than Kenny Irons the Tigers lack playmakers and if they find themselves behind in a big game they’ll be hard-pressed to come back.
5. Louisville (W vs. Kansas State 24-6)
Last week: 5
Why they can win the title: Offense, offense, offense. Bobby Petrino had already established himself as one of the preeminent offensive minds in the country before the Cardinals dropped 60 on their first two opponents, and then lit up a great Miami defense. And the ‘Ville can hurt you on the other side of the ball as well. The defense forced a big turnover early against Miami and the ‘Canes were never able to regain the momentum. Louisville’s back seven may be the best in the Big East, which is saying more than you think, and I'd give them the edge over West Virginia defensively.
Why they won’t win the title: Hard to overcome the loss of two Heisman candidates and still compete at the highest level. If either Michael Bush or Brian Brohm were healthy I’d give Louisville a big edge in their showdown against West Virginia. With both guys hurt you’ve got to figure the offense will regress, as it appeared to do against Kansas State. We’ll see if Brohm is the same guy when he returns from his thumb injury…
6. West Virginia (W vs. East Carolina 27-10)
Last week: 7
Why they can win the title: Dan Mozes and the West Virginia offensive line have done an unbelievable job opening up holes – actually, they’re more like gaping chasms – for Steve Slaton and Pat White to rocket through on their way to the endzone. Everyone knows what’s coming against West Virginia this year, but no one’s been able to stop it. And as the Mountaineers proved in the Sugar Bowl last year, this is no gimmick offense – it works against fast SEC defenses, too.
Why they won’t win the title: I’ve got to figure that at some point West Virginia is going to run into a defensive coordinator with the smarts and talent at his disposal to make Pat White throw the ball, and then the Mountaineers could be in trouble. Do they even have wide receivers? The defense is still a question as well. When you don’t have a single sack in four games something is wrong up front. If Brohm comes back healthy and has all day to throw West Virginia is going to have a hard time with the Cardinals. Further hurting their chances is one of the weakest schedules in the country. Teams that take the easy route never win the big one.
7. LSU (W vs. Tulane 49-7)
Last week: 8
Why they can win the title: A talented roster, a tough remaining schedule, and loss very early in the season will keep the Tigers in the race. Games against Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida give LSU plenty of chances to reassert themselves in the SEC, and with their great WR corps and tough defense LSU has a chance to win out. Should Auburn falter they would assume the mantle of SEC favorite. With the strength of the conference and parity throughout the country a one-loss SEC team could still find its way to the BCS Championship game.
Why they won’t win the title: The offensive inconsistency LSU displayed against Auburn could cost them dearly down the road. JaMarcus Russell and Co. moved the ball well in Jordan-Hare Stadium but struggled to put points on the board, and with all the stingy defenses remaining on the schedule points will be at a premium. The emergence of a running game would help tremendously.
8. Texas (W vs. Iowa State 37-14)
Last week: 9
Why they can win the title: A plethora of great running backs and a stingy defense usually means a winning football team and Texas has both. They also get to play in a weak conference that doesn’t figure to offer much resistance to the Longhorns, even with a freshman QB. As the defending national champ Texas will get the benefit of the doubt in voters’ minds and they have the benefit of a Conference Championship game to further build their resume after an early loss that shouldn’t hurt too bad in the long run.
Why they won’t win the title: Name me a national champion from the last 20 years that had a shaky QB? If you’re struggling to come up with one it’s because it hasn’t happened, and it’s won’t this year. Colt McCoy has shown a lot of promise but he’s still a freshman. As Ohio State showed, any team that can put the game on McCoy’s young shoulders has a chance to shut down the Longhorn’s offense.
9. Florida (W vs. Kentucky 26-7)
Last week: 6
Why they can win the title: A veteran QB and a strong defensive front seven have given the Gator’s opponents fits so far. Chris Leak has had one of the hottest starts in the country throwing for ten TDs already to lead Urban Meyer’s revamped offense. The run defense has been outstanding and the secondary, led by Reggie Nelson, came up big in UF’s comeback win against Tennessee. Actually the Gator team as a whole showed poise and determination in pulling out a one-point victory in front of 100,000 orange-clad Vols fans.
Why they won’t win the title: Last year’s epic championship game didn’t just feature two of the country’s best collections of skill position players – it featured arguably the nation’s two best offensive lines. In general, teams with good offensive lines win big games and teams with bad offensive lines don’t. Florida’s offensive line falls into the latter category right now, and will cost them against the death squad defenses of LSU, Auburn, and Georgia. Plus, the Gator “faithful” are risking the vengeance of the Football Gods by booing four-year starter Leak in favor of unproven rookie QB Tim Tebow.
10. Virginia Tech (W vs. Cincinnati 29-13)
Last week: 11
Why they can win the title: The Hokies are good this year for the same reasons the Hokies are good ever year: special teams and defense. With Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall VT boasts one of the best LB duos in the nation, while their punt- and kick-block units continue to score points. And it’s not like the Hokies can’t score on offense. With Brandon Ore they have a strong running game to complement their array of dangerous WRs.
Why they won’t win the title: Sean Glennon feels like a pretty big step back at QB, and not just because he name’s not Vick. The offense has looked good at times but has been inconsistent overall. How will they fare against the tough ACC defenses the Hokies will see down the road? To be honest, I can’t answer that question because VT has played nobody this year. As bad as West Virginia’s schedule has been, Virginia Tech’s has been worse. Like I said, teams that take the easy route don’t finish on top. Teams that can’t win in November don’t finish on top either, and the Hokies have had a problem finishing the season strong for years now.
11. Oregon (bye)
Last week: 14
Not much to say after a bye week, other than Jonathan Stewart is a big fat badass. Is anyone else hoping against hope for an Oregon/Oklahoma rematch in the Holiday Bowl?
12. Clemson (W vs. North Carolina 52-7)
Last week: 15
No one believed me when I said Clemson was for real this year. Heck, even I started to waver after the Boston College game, but I think pulling out the game in Tallahassee last weekend gave this team a huge infusion of confidence. I’m not saying they won’t pull a Clemson and lose to Wake Forest, but for the first time in years I would be surprised if it happened. Right now they’re the runaway favorite to represent the Atlantic Division in the ACCCG.
13. Notre Dame (W vs. Michigan State 40-37)
Last week: 10
I would just like to thank Drew Stanton and John L. Smith in advance for the avalanche of hyperbole and breathless Notre Dame hype all of us are going to have to endure for the next six weeks while the Irish steamroll through the soft portion of their schedule. Notre Dame was done. D-O-N-E. Toast. And then suddenly Stanton forgot which team he was playing for and starting throwing the ball to Irish defenders like he was Drew Bledsoe or something. At this point does anyone else suspect that Charlie Weis is, in fact, a Jedi? Do they allow morbidly obese Jedi? It’s the only explanation for the inexplicable ability of his teams to suddenly start picking off the Peyton Mannings and Drew Stantons of the world just when things look their worst. And it’s starting to seriously piss me off.
14. Georgia Tech (W vs. Virginia 24-7)
Last week: 13
Yellow Jacket fans are happy that Tech finally cracked the AP poll at #24. I’m ticked off about it. What the hell took so long? You’re telling me that Tech’s stout defense, shaky QB, and All-World WR that played Notre Dame down to the wire were somehow worse than Penn State’s stout defense, shaky QB, and non-existent WRs that got blown out by Notre Dame? Georgia Tech is a solid team this year, I’m just waiting to move them up until they prove it by knocking off Virginia Tech on Saturday. For some reason I have the overwhelming feeling that the Jackets are going to the ACCCG this year. Book it.
15. Oklahoma (W vs. Middle Tennessee State 59-0)
Last week: 19
I was strongly tempted to drop Oklahoma, just to see what the university President’s reaction would be. I’ve seen teams get screwed over by worse calls than what Oklahoma dealt with, but I’ve never seen a group of allegedly sane, rational men fly off the handle the way the Sooners’ coaches and administrators have in the wake of the Oregon game. They may want to pay more attention to the shaky run defense or the anemic passing game, or all the refs in the world won’t be able to help them against Texas.
16. Georgia (W vs. Colorado 14-13)
Last week: 12
Should probably be lower based on the miracle it took for them to beat Colorado at home. I was already working on the banner I was going to hang up at work for all the UGA fans when Joe Cox threw his second TD pass and ruined the party, but the Dawgs were exposed against the Buffs as a one-dimensional offense with serious QB issues. The defense is still tremendous, but if the running game can get shut down by the likes of Colorado what’s going to happen against Auburn?
17. Tennessee (W vs. Marshall 33-7)
Last week: 16
Usually this deep into the season I think I have a pretty good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the major teams, but one question still haunts me: how good is Tennessee? Are they as good as they looked against Cal, because in that case Florida is really tough and the Pac-10 might not be that bad. Or are they as bad as they looked against Air Force, in which case Florida still has a lot to prove and the Pac-10 is still a two-team race. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma, covered in riddle sauce. Unfortunately we might not learn the truth Tennessee travels to LSU on November 4th. Or maybe we'll find out this week - the past two weeks the Chop Shop's #17 team has gone down in flames. If Tennessee loses this will officially become the Dead Zone of the Top 24.
18. California (W vs. Arizona State 49-21)
Last week: 21
One of the things that makes college football so great – and college football polls so quixotic – is that football teams are dynamic, living organisms that grow and change throughout the season. It’s entirely possible that the Cal team that just demolished Arizona State is a completely different unit from the timid squad that got worked over in Neyland Stadium to start the year. We’ll keep them behind the Vols for now, but one more performance like they put on this past Saturday and the Bears will be Golden once more.
19. Nebraska (W vs. Troy 56-0)
Last week: 22
I know college football scores do not fit into a linear equation. If Team A beats Team B by X points, and Team B beats Team C by Y points, it does NOT follow that Team A is (X + Y) points better than Team C. Still, for Nebraska to pound a Troy team that had given FSU and Georgia Tech a lot of trouble is impressive. They’d probably be higher if they’d shown anything against USC, and if I didn’t think Troy was wiped out by their third straight road game against a BCS opponent. Still, I’m keeping an eye on the intriguing Cornhuskers.
20. TCU (bye)
Last week: 18
I don’t know crap about TCU, so I won’t pretend to. Good defense, they play hard, blah blah blah. Their ranking is based on the belief that Texas Tech was good, which I have my doubts about. But, considering the issues I have with the rest of the teams in the poll I’ll leave the Horned Frogs here for now, if only because I like discussing “The Horned Frogs”. Hee hee.
21. Iowa (W vs. Illinois 24-7)
Last week: 20
I can not state this strongly enough: Iowa sucks, and anyone who has them in their top 10 isn’t using sound logic. I know Kirk Ferentz is a good coach, I know Iowa is generally solid, but they haven’t been impressive in a game yet this year and they’re about to get their asses handed to them by Ohio State. The thing that irks me is that many observers will use a blowout of Iowa as further proof of Ohio State’s omnipotence, when in fact they’ll just be topping a middling Hawkeye squad that was fortunate to beat Iowa State. Thanks for all the corn and everything but Iowa, you’re starting to get on my damn nerves.
22. Florida State (W vs. Rice 55-7)
Last week: 23
As detailed in an earlier post, the Florida State offense that dominated Rice looked nothing like the flat, ridiculously conservative unit that got dominated throughout the first three weeks of the season. Everything was better, from the blocking to the ball security to the execution. Most importantly, the play-calling was far and away the most creative and varied we've seen this year. Unfortunately the stirring performance came against a team named after a starchy side dish, as opposed to a Southern state. Do it against a real opponent (NC State will have to do, I suppose) and the ‘Noles will be back in the top 20 where they belong. More Xavier Lee might help the cause. As a side note, get well soon Marcus Ball! You will be sorely missed.
Is this the man that will turn around the 'Noles season?
23. Boise State (W vs. Hawaii 31-24)
Last week: NR
I haven’t seen a single minute of a Boise State game this year. I know they’ve looked good, and their QB’s name is Jared so that’s cool, but I can’t put a team that only beat a June Jones-coached team by one score any higher than this.
24. Michigan State (L vs. #10 Notre Dame 37-40)
Last week: NR
Yeah, yeah, they lost…in horrible, could-only-happen-to-Michigan-State fashion. They also dominated a solid Notre Dame team for three-plus quarters and were mere minutes from starting the season an impressive 4-0. Despite the melt-down Drew Stanton-to-Matt Trannon is a dangerous combination that not many teams can match. Maybe I’m swayed because I only saw the good side of Michigan State on Saturday, but I was impressed. If games were only three quarters long maybe they’d be in the top 10, but with all the parity in college football this year you can’t tell me there’s 24 teams better than the Spartans right now.
What Did I Ever See In You??? … Boston College (#17), UCLA (#24)